Happy Life/Healthy Home

Build Better Relationships (Part II)

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The Cornerstone of Emotional Control

One-year-old children do not control how they express their feelings. These little emotional volcanoes erupt in crying, tantrums, screaming and making a fuss whenever the mood strikes.

But so what. People love one-year-old children. They are cute, innocent, and engaging. As for the outbursts, well, they are only one year old after all. We make allowances.

By contrast, people do not love to be around adults who act like one-year-old children. Most of us do not look at these adults and think they are cute, innocent, or engaging. We cannot reason away their behavior by thinking “They are so young, they haven’t learned how to behave yet.”

Adults who lack the skill, or the desire, to control how they express strong emotions will find it difficult to build close, mature, and rewarding relationships. Those sort of relationships require emotional control.

In Part 1 of this two part series we briefly looked at why emotional control is important for healthy relationships to grow and flourish.

The take away from that article was “Feelings, when given control of behavior, become tyrants. Feelings may lead you to avoid those things you should do. Those things that would be good for you, and are good for others around you.”

Feelings may also lead you to do those things you should not do, which can quickly build a memory chest of regret and grief.

The key to making the most of emotion, of creating a life where emotions enrich your experiences rather than control your experiences, is to learn how best to respond to your feelings. That is, to master your feelings so they do not lead you to behave in ways that are destructive.”  

This observation begs the following question: “How does someone go about gaining this sort of control over emotions?” Glad you asked.  Below I have listed some simple, common sense steps to get you started.

One caution, however, before we start discussing these steps. The things I recommend doing are not complicated, but they do require consistent effort. If you are willing to put in the time and the work, you will eventually build crazy Jedi Master like control over your feelings (or maybe just semi Jedi like control that is still pretty shock and awe-inspiring).

If you are not willing to put in the time, the effort, and make this a priority, you’re better off not starting down this road. Although gaining better control over your emotions is not rocket science, it is hard work. If you are not willing to do that work, save yourself some frustration.

But, if you are ready to put in the work, keep focused, be persistent, and change your life for the better, that’s terrific! In that case let’s get moving, there’s no time to lose.

Five Skills For Gaining Control Over Emotions

When we think about increasing control over emotions it is helpful to divide this part of life into two realms. The first realm is what occurs in the heat of the moment. When you have just been insulted, disappointed, provoked, frustrated, embarrassed, and so forth. How can you quickly assert control over your emotions in those instances so as to respond in a constructive way. These are ‘in the moment’ skills.

A second set of skills we will look at take aim at lowering the overall stress in your life so that when highly charged situations arise you find it easier to respond effectively. Let’s call these ‘stress reduction skills’ because… well, because that’s precisely what they do.

Each skill will be listed and briefly explained. A short description of the rationale then follows.


Folsom Coping Skills

SKILL  Put everything on hold. When a provocative encounter comes up step away. Don’t continue to engage in conversation at that moment. Tell the other person that you would like to discuss that topic with him or her at a later time, but not now.

You don’t need a rationale. You don’t need to explain (unless the other person is your spouse or close friend). This is one of the best ways to avoid having emotions hijack your interactions. Just say no.

RATIONALE Putting a discussion on hold allows you to pick a better time to confront the issue. A time that is more favorable to maintaining good emotional control. This also gives you time to consider the other person’s perspective, and the best way to respond.  

SKILL   Gain some perspective. Think of the things that cause your emotions to rise. What remarks, or behaviors, by others cause you to be hurt, angry or embarrassed?  Do these interactions really seem worth the energy, and potential conflict, that occurs when you respond with high emotion? Is reacting this way really worth the cost? Are you positive the other person meant to be hurtful, cutting, dismissive?

Not convinced? OK, think of it this way: imagine you are leaving for a two-year journey abroad where there will be no ability to communicate with others (including close friends and relatives). Now imagine that a friend, or relative, just did something to upset you. When you arrive at your destination, no longer able to communicate with anyone in your old life, would you be glad that you had expressed your anger, hurt, resentment?

If the answer is “No, I would not respond with an angry or biting response”, then don’t do it.

Folsom control over emotions

RATIONALE Gaining perspective helps pull us back from being caught up in the “emotional vortex of the moment.” During these brief periods of time your lizard brain begins to take over – which means you are more likely to make decisions that an Iguana would find pleasing.

The problem is, you’re not an Iguana, and when the lizard brain settles down and sweet reason resumes in its place, regret is likely to follow.

Bottom line, work hard to gain perspective. This goes a long way toward helping you think rationally even when emotions begin to surge. With sweet reason guiding your responses, better decisions will be made (i.e., you will overcome the lizard brain).

SKILL   Channel your inner Mr. Miyagi (pop culture reference alert… see also Karate Kid). That is, muster all the will power available and respond in ways that are guided by your higher principles.

Some people suffer from the mistaken idea that they have no control over their will power. They will say “I just can’t help myself from behaving this way.”

What this usually means (when any of us use this explanation) is that the effort it took to employ will power was more than we wanted to expend at that time. For example, think of driving home from work when suddenly you slam on the brakes because someone cut into your lane. Everything goes from your car seat to the floor. Your heart is racing. It would feel good, and right, to lean out the window and scream. Yelling would be a relief. If a couple of well-chosen curse words were added the relief might be even greater.

The force of willpower, however, is pushing back against this urge. “Stay calm. Focus on the traffic. Be the master of your feelings.”

Emotional control Folsom

None of that feels very appealing at the moment. That way of responding does not offer immediate relief from the tension. And this is the point when we make a decision: do we shoulder the cost of exercising willpower, or decide it is not worth the price extracted (i.e., the price of living with the intense anger we experience at that moment).

The key point here is that it is a decision that each of us makes. Something that is under our control.

I remember working with a young man in his 20s who lived at home with his mother. Let’s call him Lester (not his real name). He would demand that his mum serve him meals in his room, clean up after him, do the shopping, and wash his clothes. When she failed to meet his expectations he would scream at her with profanity laced criticisms.

Lester said he would like to change his behavior but, to be honest, it was impossible. “I’ve tried. Gave it my best shot.” he said to me, looking pained at the memory of his failed yet herculean efforts.

“There are some things in life that just are not under my control. Wish they were… but they’re not. Once my mom sets me off, I lose it. There is nothing I can do.”

A short time after Lester and I had that conversation his mother came in and recounted the following. One of the mother’s friends had dropped by unexpectedly. Lester was unaware of the friend’s presence in the house when he called out from his bedroom that he wanted lunch to be ready within ten minutes. His mother, in the living room with her guest, called back that she was busy and would make lunch later.

Lester was furious. How dare his mother delay lunch. Without leaving his bedroom he began to yell out his typical litany of profanities. Not receiving a response from his mother he decided to march out of his room and give her a proper dressing down. Loudly stomping into the living room Lester was suddenly brought up short when he saw that there was a guest in the home. Remarkably, in that instant all profanities stopped.

What’s more, Lester managed a painful smile, then said hello to the guest before scampering back to his bedroom. Later that evening he scolded his mother for not informing him that a guest was in the house. “If I had known I would never have spoken that way. It’s so embarrassing, why didn’t you tell me?”

Clearly, Lester was able to choose how he would express his feelings of anger. The idea that he had tried to peddle earlier regarding this being outside of his control was an excuse for not doing the hard work of using self-control. Lester needed to channel his inner Mr. Miyagi (he also needed to be shown the front door, but that is a topic for another day).

Had Lester been interested in learning self control I would have given him the following advice. The key to strengthening will power is to pick one or two areas of life where you think it would be easy to assert more self-control. Set a couple of modest goals for doing so, practice some skills that could be of help, and begin to apply yourself.

Once those initial goals have been reached move forward by making new ones that are a little more difficult. When these goals have been conquered just repeat the steps until self control is well established in that part of your life.

Eventually you will select a new area of self control that you wish to strengthen. Follow the same steps as before. It’s OK to be slow and methodical. Just make sure you are always headed in the direction of progress.

An example might help make this more clear. Let’s say you, like Lester, have trouble with your temper. But you also have trouble with a sweet tooth. To pass by the donuts at church without snagging one or two is torture. The candy jar at the office is your BFF. A second helping of pie or cake each night has become a sacred tradition.

You figure that between your temper and your sweet tooth, it would be easier to gain control over cravings for all things sugar related. How does this help you exercise control over anger? By building self restraint in one area of life you indirectly enhance your ability to show restraint in other areas. Simple as that.

So once you had developed some pretty strong control over your sweet tooth cravings, you would move on to tackling some other area of self control. This might be your anger, but it might be something else. The key is to continue to build self control throughout your life so it become a part of your daily habits and mindset.

And just to be clear, at some point you will need to directly focus on controlling your anger.

RATIONALE  There is a Mr. Miyagi within each one of us. OK, that sounds a little odd. Bad metaphor. Let me rephrase.

There is a grown up side to each of us. Let that grown up side emerge and take control of your responses. This usually requires that we put injured pride to the side (i.e., “My spouse said something that hurt my feelings so now I’m going to hurt him/her back… but even worse”).

It may also require that we put resentments, insecurities, and selfish ambition in the ‘time out room.’ Fine.

The main thing is to focus your full effort on exerting self-control when you begin to feel emotions breaking free from your ability to restrain their expression. Many people can maintain control - but lack the desire. Feed the desire and you will strengthen your control.


SKILL    Reduce the overall stress in your life. As much as possible you should remove stressful situations, overly demanding people, and unrealistic expectations from your life. All of these build stress, reducing your ability to maintain emotional control.

Likewise, meditation, exercise, yoga, and hobbies may also reduce your stress. But many of us think of these things as luxuries. Indulgences. Consequently, they are low on our list of priorities. Because of this, these stress reduction approaches are often ignored.

Don’t make that mistake. Swim against the tide. Schedule one or more of these activities into your week. You’ll be glad you did.

RATIONALE   Activities that allow you to feel relaxed and at peace have a ripple effect. The benefits do not stop the moment you roll up your yoga mat, or put away the golf clubs. The psychological and neurological changes that occur while being engaged in these activities continue to be felt later in the day as well.

The islands of calm created by activities like meditation, exercise, etc., allow us to restore depleted psychological resources. We recharge our energy, and return to face life’s challenges with a greater sense of equilibrium and confidence. Then, when emotionally charged interactions arise with others, it is becomes easier to respond in ways that are effective.

Stress reduction skills

This is similar to walking a tightrope. Difficult under the best of circumstances. But attempting it while carrying a squirming chimp on your shoulders and luggage tucked under each arm gets even dicier. Vegas odds makers grimace and clutch their chest. The first gust of wind that comes your way means the walk is over. Gravity wins.

If, however, you were to ditch the luggage, and set aside the annoying chimp, your odds suddenly look a whole lot better. Without these impediments, it is much easier to deal with that gust of wind when it rushes at you.

So dump the stress. Find ways to set it aside. You’ll find it much easier to gain control over those intense feelings that give you grief.  

SKILL   Identify situations and people that trigger strong emotions in you.

RATIONALE  This allows you to avoid encountering those situations/people that give rise to pitched emotions. Not fully perhaps, but at least enough to reduce the frequency of such encounters. That is a huge gain.

It is obvious, however, that some stressful situations and people cannot be avoided. In fact, more importantly they should not be avoided. What then?

Gaining emotional control

The answer is that because you have identified these “triggers” ahead of time, you can clearly anticipate what response you would like to have in those situations. Knowing how you would like to respond will allow you to mentally rehearse that desired reaction. In other words, it allows you to prepare.

Preparation gives you an advantage. It puts the odds of a good outcome in your favor. Don’t ignore this step.


Emotional control brings added richness to life, and opens doors to deeper longer lasting relationships

There is a difference between having emotional control and being emotionally repressed. The person with control still experiences strong emotions, but he or she is not overwhelmed by their feelings. Neither anger, jealousy, sadness, elation, nor joy results in a loss of self-control.

This is the sort of person who, when faced with strong emotion, is still able to express him/herself in constructive ways. At times that response might express supreme patience, at other times it might exude icy cold assertiveness. In any case, it will be controlled and harnessed to reason and character.

The repressed individual, on the other hand, simply stuffs emotions so deeply into the recesses of the psyche that he, or she, fails to experience strong feelings. This way of gaining emotional control is detrimental to relationships.

It also fails to work. Let me emphasize, it fails much more often than it succeeds. Repressing emotions is about as effective as a Ford Edsel. The floodgates of repressed emotions have a way of unexpectedly opening. Emotions that have for ages been held underground suddenly surge to the surface like a geyser. Similar to Old Faithful, this makes quite a spectacle – one that is usually followed by regret.

By contrast, the sort of mature self-control we have looked at does not result in these sudden emotional eruptions. What’s more, with persistence and practice anyone is capable of gaining better control of this part of their life.

It may be that for some people a coach (i.e., therapist) will be helpful. Terrific, go for it. But whether you take that route, or prefer to go it alone, don’t wait another day to get started. Less stress and more rewarding relationships are right around the corner.

Four Ways To Make Next Year A Great Year

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Reach Your Goals/Change Your Life

It’s difficult to believe that 2018 is coming to a close. I’ll bet you remember when the year was still fresh. A clean slate to write upon. Yet now the year is quickly running to the finish line. Another chapter of life written.

Many of us use this time to reflect on memories of what went well, the successes we’ve had, times with family and friends, and the goals we’ve achieved.

Anxiety Depression Therapist

On the other hand, many of us also look at what we would like to have done differently. This can be a little painful. It might even cause some anxiety to look at those goals that were not reached. Things we promised ourselves we would finally complete, but once again somehow never got around to doing. (Spoiler alert… I’m going to show you how to move those painful items to the “Been there, done that” column of life).

All of this brings us to the topic of New Year’s resolutions.

With a new year stretched out before us, it’s natural to want to set ambitious goals. Important and personally meaningful goals. Often, without too much thought, we’ll latch onto a couple of things we would like to change in our life and then make a New Year resolution.

Sadly, by the middle of the year, most of us have broken these resolutions. I feel your pain. 

Yep, by the time the weather turns warm, most of us have tossed aside our New Year resolutions. Dumped them on the side of the road that leads to summer. Tossed them out the window as if they were some regrettable impulse buy made at the Dollar Tree store. (True confession, I’ve never regretted a Dollar Tree purchase – but that’s not the issue).

Anxiety Depression Therapist

Have you found yourself in that situation? The odds are you have – like most of us. Welcome to the club. But take a moment now to consider what might have happened if you had succeeded in fulfilling one or two of those resolutions? Better yet, what if you had been successful in keeping your resolutions over each of the past five years?

How might your life be different? In what ways could it be better? In what ways might you have become a better version of yourself? Really give that some thought.

Resolutions that are successful, even small resolutions, have the potential to dramatically change one’s life.

I recall the story of a woman in her 40’s who was depressed, overweight, socially isolated and a chain smoker. On a trip overseas, in a remote location, she found herself unable to buy cigarettes. For a full week she would be without her smokes.

“Why doesn’t Trip Advisor warn about such things!” she screamed into her pillow (OK, I added that, not sure the whole screaming into the pillow was part of her story).  

Bottom line, the woman was not pleased. Nicotine withdrawal is a bear.

But by the end of the week she had an insight. Despite her numerous attempts to stop smoking throughout the previous ten years, she had never gone a full week without a cigarette. Now that she had a full week of being clean, she wondered if she could extend that streak for one more day.

It wasn’t easy, but she stayed clean another day. Then another, and another, and another. By this point her confidence had soared, as had her determination to stay ‘nicotine sober.’

Having kicked cigarettes out of her life, she physically felt much better. Her sleep had improved. Her thinking was clearer. She began to savor the subtle flavors of food that had been dulled by a two pack a day habit.

So she decided to start exercising. Every morning began with a brisk walk. It wasn’t long before she was waking earlier and walking three miles a day. Then jogging, and then running.

Eventually she joined a running group. The other runners were warm and welcoming. Friendships formed.

Her friends encouraged her to sign up for a half marathon. They would run as a group. To prepare for the challenge she changed her eating habits. Due to all the running and healthier eating she began to lose weight.

All of these changes took place within two years of her having stopped smoking. A small change in her life had unforeseen consequences. It altered her outlook, and pushed her in a new direction.

Two years previously she had been unhappy, smoking two packs a day, in poor health, and had almost no real friends. Now she was the picture of health, supported by friends, and optimistic about the future.

The right changes, even small ones, can shift our lives in dramatically new directions. These changes are similar to the slight push on the tiller of a boat. This causes the rudder to move ever so slightly one way or another, changing course of direction just a few degrees.

What sort of difference do these small changes make? Well, if you were sailing north from the southern Pacific Ocean it would make the difference between making landfall on the coast of Russia, versus the United States.

New Year resolutions that are well chosen can have a similar impact on your life, drastically altering where you find yourself in the coming years.

Resolutions Are Goals

Resolutions are simply goals. And goals that we stick to have tremendous power because they change life’s trajectory. They have the punch to rekindle old passions. To unveil forgotten potential, and spark a cascade of positive change.

We all need goals. Better yet, we need good goals. Those that lead us to form habits which, having become second nature, move our life forward even when we are not consciously striving to do so.

One example of such a habit is that of getting consistently getting a good night’s sleep. Nail this habit and you will see a change in improved energy, a brighter mood, and a clearer mind. Or the habit of reading leads us to expand our knowledge and view the world with a more informed perspective.

Anxiety Depression Therapist

What we want to avoid are resolutions, or goals, that wither and die. These lead to a sense of frustration. Of being stuck. Powerless to change our own destiny.

Better to not make any New Year resolutions than to perpetually fail at keeping them. I know, sounds harsh. But there is no upside to going through an end of year ritual that teach us to expect failure.

The ‘take home’ message? Take aim at forming resolutions that you are willing to fully commit to fulfilling. Chose resolutions, no matter how small, that will enrich your life in some way.

When choosing a resolution think of a ‘why’ that makes it worth sacrificing time and energy to complete. The ‘why’ boils down to how it improves your life, or the lives of the people you most deeply care for.

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How To Make Resolutions That Stick  

So how do you stick to a New Year’s resolution?  

By building a strategy that supports your success at reaching the goal you have set. 

What’s that again? Let me elaborate.

Most resolutions are made with a great deal of sincerity, but very little detailed planning. To increase the odds of success, you need even more planning than sincerity. If a goal is not worth the time and effort needed to make a detailed plan for succeeding, then it is unlikely to be worth the even bigger effort it takes to reach that goal.

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There are four simple steps you can follow that will make reaching any goal much more likely. Each step requires some earnest thought.

This ‘thinking through the details’ of how to reach your goal can be challenging. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, the rewards are great.

Let’s go over each step.

ONE            Select a realistic goal. For example, if you want to learn a new language in the coming year, your goal might be to memorize three hundred words of that language. With that vocabulary having been built up you might also aim to have 50 different sentences with which you are fluent by the end of the year.

That boils down to learning six words a week, and about four sentences a month. How much of your time would that require each week? Thirty minutes? An hour at the most?

Much more doable than the loftier goal of learning to speak a foreign language fluently by the end of the year (sorry Rosetta Stone, but let’s deal with how much spare time most people really have each day). Learning 300 words, and 50 sentences is a realistic goal, even for a very busy person like you.

If you continued with that goal for several more years you would have at your command a vocabulary of well over a thousand words, and hundreds of sentences. That’s what they call pretty impressive in French  (assez impressionnant), German (ziemlich beeindruckend), or Japanese (Kanari inshō-teki). 

TWO           Write down each step that you must take in order to succeed. Using the same example, we could easily identify several steps: buy a book, or a DVD language set, or enroll in an online course. Another step would be to set aside the time to study each day. A third step would be to identify the words you wished to learn, put them on a list and determine what words will be learned each week. Another step would be to decide how to reinforce the learning once you’ve committed a word to memory (e.g., flash cards that would be reviewed once weekly). You get the idea.

It’s important to be specific with your plan. Likewise, it is important to be committed to the plan.

Anxiety Depression Therapist

For instance, if you planned to spend ten minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening reviewing the vocabulary words, you would mark that in your calendar. 

It would need to be treated as an important appointment with yourself. Keeping that appointment should be a priority.

Lastly, I need to emphasize that staying with your new routine will be difficult at first. But once you get started, and you’ve stayed with it for two or three months, it becomes second nature. Like brushing your teeth, just part of your routine.

THREE       Find a partner (if possible) to join you in reaching this goal. This will make it more fun, and you’ll have someone to encourage you, and help keep you on track.

FOUR         Reward yourself along the way. As you make progress toward reaching your goal, stop to celebrate. For the example about learning a language, it would be good to celebrate after every 50 words are mastered. That’s a milestone! Time for a pat on the back and a double scoop of ice cream!

Are there any other ways you can think of to make resolutions that stick? It’s worth giving some thought – it just might be the thing that sends your life in an entirely new and more rewarding direction.

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Three Unrealistic Beliefs That Create Anxiety And Depression… And How To Be Rid Of Them

Compass Folsom Therapist

Beliefs That Hold You Back

I’ve listened to hundreds of men and women talk about their biggest fears and their most exciting triumphs. They have spoken about the things that bring the most joy into their lives, and that which creates clouds of discontent.

Through these privileged conversations, I have detected a common thread. A set of core of beliefs that lead to frustration and self-doubt. Conclusions that many people accept as basic truths about what needs to happen in life so that they can be happy. So they can be successful. That life can be richly enjoyed and filled with purpose.

When we rid ourselves of these unrealistic expectations, we become more receptive to the joys of life. We feel much freer. 

Let’s look at just three of these toxic beliefs and what can be done to reduce their influence.

Unrealistic Expectations

Folsom Therapist quote

One: “I have to reach some goal, possess some object, win someone’s approval. What’s more, that needs to happen right now! If I don’t succeed right away, then I cannot be truly happy.”

Solution: Keep in mind that no one succeeds in consistently meeting major life goals in the timeframe that they would like.

Impatience is an impediment to savoring the moment, a barrier to happiness.   

Many of us struggle with impatience: the feeling that we need to succeed RIGHT NOW in order to enjoy life. The first step to changing this unrealistic standard is to take a moment and recall those times when you failed to reach an important goal. It may have seemed that the world was crashing in on you. But, the fact is life did not end. Important lessons were learned. You may have even grown wiser and stronger because of the setback.

Reflecting on your past in this way will go a long way to challenging the idea that you must succeed at some endeavor within in short period of time. It may also convince you that your greatest strengths were built during times of struggle, rather than periods of success. Life is filled with both of these elements.  

Two: “I deserve…”  Then fill in the rest of the sentence. It may be “I deserve to have that job” or “I deserve to have that nicer car” or I deserve to have that person’s affection.”  This thought is often followed by “If I don’t obtain it, then life is not fair.”

When we feel as though that which we deserve has been kept outside our reach, resentment is likely to grow.

Folsom therapist quote

And why wouldn’t it? If we deserve to have something, then naturally we are inclined to expect that we will eventually possess that thing/status/object that we deserve. But what happens when it remains outside our reach? Resentment takes root.

As Anne Lamott has written, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”  

Resentment does not make a merry companion on the road of life.  

That does not mean it is wrong to have goals – far from it. Goals are important. That much is obvious to each of us. It is the unwarranted sense that we deserve to prize of winning a particular goal that should be guarded against.

Solution: Take a deep breath, focus on savoring the present: it is part of the journey, of ‘paying your dues.’ The current effort and toil will become part of your life story, and will make later success all the sweeter. Look around at what others have had to do to win in their careers and personal life. Get some perspective. Reaching big goals requires hard work. Setbacks along the way are inevitable.

After coming to terms with that truth, take the next step. Life does not revolve around any one of us. Be humble. Humility keeps one grounded, and provides much needed perspective. Part of this perspective includes accepting that many of the things we desire, are not necessarily things we deserve.

Three: “I’m not sure why, but deep inside I know that I’m lacking. In some way, I am just not enough. But I’m uncertain what is missing, so I’ll look around, maybe check out Instagram and Facebook to see what others have which make them so happy. Then I’ll know what’s missing within myself.”

Folsom Therapist quote

Solution: My advice for someone who struggles with this distortion (closely related to the “Imposter Syndrome”) is to stop with the comparisons. Stay away from Facebook (go cold turkey, start a Facebook Anonymous group, whatever it takes, but stop comparing your life to that of others). Do a ‘cleansing fast’ of Instagram. Take a break, a very long break, from social media. 

Now that you have more time in your life, devote it to building deep, genuine relationships with a small number of friends and family. They will value you for who you are, warts and all. These relationships should convince you that, like all of humanity, you really are lacking, and paradoxically you really are still ‘enough.’  Good enough to be loved, good enough to be valued, and good enough to bring joy into the lives of others.


To live life to the fullest we must overcome those obstacles that hold us back. Some of these obstacles include the thoughts we embrace. Thoughts we unthinkingly assume to be true.

Once we begin to notice these thoughts, and challenge them, new paths for pursuing a full and rewarding life begin to open up. This takes a little work, but the rewards make the effort well worthwhile.

Take a moment to see if any of the barriers to happiness listed above might apply to you. Don’t spend another day struggling with unrealistic expectations that hold you back. Push them aside, and see how much happier life can be.



11 Tips For Parents: Teen Proofing Your Child.

Teens running Folsom anxiety

How To Avoid Massive Teenage Drama, Save Your Sanity, and Stay Close To Your Teen

The mother sitting in front of me was in tears. She looked thoroughly defeated, but more than that, she was worried. Her husband, sitting next to her, sighed deeply and shook his head in anger. “We’ve been through this a million times. It’s like hitting your head against granite… and I’m just about done.”

Sitting across from them was their 16-year-old daughter Rachel. Her expression was one of contempt mixed with boredom. She sat slouched in an overstuffed office chair, arms folded across her chest, a thousand mile stare directed out the window.

Before entering high school Rachel had been an easygoing youngster who seemed to bounce through each day as though she hadn’t a care in the world. Her parents described her as having been “a bright, happy, and outgoing” girl.

Sometime in the middle of her freshman year, however, they noticed a change in their daughter. Their easygoing daughter began to sulk when asked to do chores, and the little arguments around inconsequential topics became more frequent. Shortly after this the school began to call letting the parents know that Rachel had skipped a class, or had been found leaving the high school campus with a group of other teens.

Around this same time Rachel’s mood became even more irritable. She withdrew frequently, spending hours behind a closed bedroom door. Getting her to talk at the dinner table had never been an issue in the past. Now the parents felt lucky if their daughter spoke up at all.

As the semester wore on it became clear that what their daughter wanted most was to be left alone - unless she needed to be driven somewhere, in which case the agreeable and sweet side of Rachel from times gone by suddenly reappeared.

The parents responded to these changes by telling their daughter how disappointed they were in her choices. When this did not have the desired impact they would shift to stern reprimands and punishment. Confrontation and tense exchanges started to punctuate each week.

Rachel’s behavior always showed brief improvement after one of these heated conflicts, but over time she learned to simply agree with whatever her parents said, and then immediately ignored all of their warnings.

Her mother and father unwittingly developed a routine. Each evening before going to bed the conversation would turn to the topic of Rachel’s most recent act of defiance. Back and forth they tossed ideas, expressed their worry, spoke of their anger and wondered what had gone so wrong. The home that two years before had been filled with laughter and a sense of intimacy was now an emotional war zone.

Anger and conflict had replaced the warmth and sense of oneness they had previously enjoyed. Rachel’s parents were confused. How could such a sweet girl transform into one who was so resentful and rebellious? How could their family life so quickly shift from being a haven of support to a crucible of conflict?

The ‘last straw’ occurred when the parents returned home early from a ‘date night’ and found that Rachel had invited a boy into the house for a date night of her own. Feeling desperate, the parents decided to call a therapist.

How To Save Your Teen (and yourself) From The Pain of Adolescence

The story of Rachel is a familiar one: a rebellious adolescent whose misbehavior creates years of emotional turmoil within a family. There are, however, ways of making this outcome less likely. Of putting the odds for a happy adolescence in your favor.

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Preparation is the key. From the time a child is a toddler, parents need to focus on preparing their child to meet the challenges of adolescence. 

To know how to prepare your child for adolescence you need to recognize what challenges your teen will face. Only by knowing what lies ahead can you also know how to prepare your child.

This is no different from any other aspect of life. If you are preparing to run in a marathon, your training will focus on endurance running. On the other hand, if you are preparing to compete in a chess tournament your training will involve studying common chessboard strategy, and improving your ability to think three or four moves ahead in the game. Running several miles each day in order to prepare for a chess match…. Well, not too helpful.

So what challenges do teens face? To get a clear answer to this question we need to realize that this period of time is the “launch pad” to adulthood. The youngster who recently enjoyed playing with Legos or dolls, is now immersed in the business of preparing for adulthood.

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The teen’s job during these years is to:

Begin to make independent decisions

Select life goals

Grow more responsible

Find a path in life that fits with his/her abilities and interests

Develop mature and supportive relationships with peers

Learn how to understand and relate to the opposite sex

Figure out how to maintain a close relationship with parents while still becoming increasingly independent.

Deal appropriately to the rapid physical transformation of their body   

There is no other time in an individual’s life where so many changes are required of an individual in such a short period of time. In case things are not already dicey enough, added to all of this are the following:

A massively heightened sense of insecurity (found in most teens)

A belief that the world revolves around oneself

A growing desire to distance oneself from parental influence

An influx of hormones.

This begins to sound like a wizard’s brew designed to drive both teens and parents to the limits of crazyland.

The good news. It doesn’t have to go down that road!

What Teens Need To Successfully Navigate The Adolescent Years

To travel through adolescence and succeed, to traverse these years and remain close to parents and experience minimal drama, a few basic skills must be firmly developed ahead of time. These skills, or aptitudes, include the ability to avoid falling into the following traps:

Giving in to peer pressure in order to be “cool” or popular

Acting on emotion rather than reason

Lack of focus – chasing the newest ‘shining object’

Feelings of profound inadequacy (which may lead to a poor choice friends,         drug/alcohol abuse, self-harm)

Failure to consider the advice of trusted adults

Combative attitude toward parents

When the skills needed to avoid these pitfalls are taught from an early age, they are more likely to become deeply rooted in a child’s character. They become second nature.

This makes it easier to resist the pressures mentioned above that every teen faces.

How To Prepare For Adolescents

What can you do to help your child be ready for the challenges that lie ahead? Several things. Some easy, some not so much. But none of them requiring superhuman skills. Here is a brief list. 

Let your child fail. Yes, I know, you’ve heard it before – but let it sink in. All of us parents know we need to do this, and all of us hate letting our children fail.

Even so, we know deep down that setbacks in life are inevitable. They are something each of us face from time to time. Learning to experience failure, and have it neither define nor defeat you, is how one grows stronger. It is an essential skill for living a successful life.

Be supportive but not enabling. When your child has fallen short in some way, it is helpful to provide support and perspective. When life has dealt them a cruel hand in some way be the shoulder they can lean on, but don’t treat them as a victim. Do this by reflecting confidence in their ability to bounce back, to overcome. Help them realize that they may be victimized by fate, or mistreated by friends they had trusted, but help them never lose sight that they are capable of overcoming those heartaches. Those that overcome hardships are victors, not victims.

Show your child that you have confidence in him/her.   Confidence is learned. Children learn confidence by seeing it reflected in their parents’ appraisal. (That is one of the reasons for letting children try and fail – it reflects confidence in the child’s ability to persist and eventually win the goal at which he or she had taken aim). Confidence is also learned through experience. Steer your child toward activities within which he or she can excel.

Put setbacks in perspective, they are not the end of the world. When comforting your child in response to some setback in life, provide some perspective. This is not to say you should minimize the distress your child feels, but the events surrounding that hurt need to be realistically viewed. So you end up doing two things at once: comforting your child, and conveying the message “Toughen Up Buttercup.”

Place more emphasis on character than accomplishments (the effort put into getting an A or B grade is much more important than the grade itself). Character trumps ability. Without character ability is a hallow thing. A ship without a rudder. Your child’s persistence and effort is more important than the final outcome. The youngster who is naturally gifted and earns straight A’s, but puts forth little effort, is much less ready for adulthood than the child who earns straight B’s by putting forth consistent effort.

Build a relationship that welcomes your child’s ideas, even when those ideas conflict with your own. Speak with interest and genuine regard about your child’s ideas, even if they appear foolish. You need not pretend that they are accurate. You should, however, try your best to help your child understand that you welcome the opportunity to understand his or her perspective. In this way, when your youngster is a teen, he or she is likely to feel more comfortable openly discussing various topics with you.

Teach your child how to choose friends wisely.  When children are young parents do best by helping them to choose their friends. These relationships will teach your child what to expect from peers as they grow older. They will also help to shape your child’s preference for the type of friendships formed later in life. When they are in their teens, these foundational friendships will act as guardrails to keep them on track. Badly chosen friendships will act as seductive invitations to behave in ways that have long term consequences.

Teach your child that it is better to follow his/her judgement/moral compass than it is to win the approval of others.  Celebrate every instance of your child following his/her conscience. When faced with the enormous peer pressures of the adolescent crowd, conscience will be the ultimate bulwark against regrettable decisions. Spend time building that bulwark to be as strong as possible.

Teach self-control.  Performing household chores, not allowing temper tantrums in older children, developing good manners, sticking to routines even when it is difficult, are all ways in which children learn self-control. When confronted with the explosive cocktail of adolescent stress and hormones, self-control is a stalwart friend.

Emphasize respect for authority even while emphasizing independent thinking skills.  Children who respect authority figures develop a stronger sense of confidence than those who constantly rebel. They have fewer problems at home and in school. Life is sweeter.

Nevertheless, there needs to be a balance. Your child needs to learn to think independently. To understand that authority figures can be respected, and still be mistaken. This is a process. A gradual process.

By helping your child acquire this perspective the teen years will be relatively free from the unnecessary travails that arise when an adolescent feels obligated to rebel against authority figures.

Teach your child to be grateful.  Gratitude provides perspective, instills a sense of connectedness to others (those to whom we are grateful), and encourages generosity. Children who learn gratitude are happier, and this acts as a barrier to the discontent that afflicts many teens.           


The teen years can be a wonderful time of growth, or a tumultuous period of stress for the adolescent and his/her family. To make the most of these years requires preparation. Specific skills need to be developed that prepare the teen to meet the challenges that will inevitably be faced. Parents who, early on, begin to develop these skills in their children are much more likely to have teens that emerge from adolescence ready to take their place within the world of adults.

You can do this…. Start now.

Preparing teens for success avoiding anxiety

Texting Anxiety - Is It A Thing?

Young woman texting Folsom Counseling Anxiety

Anxiety… And Waiting To Hear Back

Anxiety is a common problem that everyone deals with from time to time. But texting anxiety? Really… Is that a thing?

Until last week I had never even considered the anxiety that might be attached to texting. Then a question came up from a journalist asking how best to deal with ‘texting anxiety.’ Hmmm. I must confess this is not something with which I wrestle. Not to say I’m too good, too enlightened to be bothered by such trifling matters. Heck, there was a time when getting the right mix of cavendish and burly pipe tobacco could cause me to break out in a cold sweat (it’s more important than you may think, and requires the nimble imagination of an alchemist to get it just right).

But texting anxiety had not come up on my radar. So I took this as a challenge to think about some simple ways one could deal with the matter. In case you’re interested, follow this link to Southern Living.

Lessons Learned From The Other Side Of The Couch

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Facing Heartache & Pursuing Happiness

I’ve been a therapist for many years now. Over the course of those years people of various backgrounds, struggling with a variety of different challenges, have sat across from me.

Some have been young, others old. Some were full-time homemakers, others were skilled tradesmen, students, or unemployed. Still others were involved in successful practices involving medicine, the law, or business.

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A number of these individuals had grown up in wonderfully supportive homes, while others had struggled growing up in abusive, chaotic and horribly dysfunctional families.

Pretty early on in my career I began to notice that regardless of one’s history, or present circumstances, the people who succeeded in building a happy and full life had certain traits in common. For some people, these traits, or characteristics, seem to have developed easily. Perhaps they were winners in the genetic lottery. For most, however, the traits that helped them weather life’s storms, and create happier lives, appeared to be hard won.

Today I want to look at just one of these traits. Of all the qualities that add to one’s ability to build a full and happy life, this one may be the most difficult to build. But not impossible. Far from it. With persistence, and continued practice, this trait will take root in one’s character, and a richer life will be crafted as a result.


Assuming responsibility for one’s happiness is one of the top key traits I’ve seen in those who appear most fulfilled in life. This is true whether the person is currently struggling with grief, depression, anxiety or some other distress. It is not that these people don’t recognize the severity of the hardships that bear down on them: they do not view life through rose colored glasses. Very much the opposite. They are realists to the core.

Instead of glossing over the heartaches of life, they squarely acknowledge the pain of each setback. Having down so, however, they also take full responsibility for the task of then moving forward and building a happy life as best as their abilities will allow.

A more natural reaction to have in the face of great heartache, and one that many of us may have indulged in on occasion, is to exclaim “If only XYZ were different, then I could be happy.”

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This way of thinking is attractive because it often contains at least a kernel of truth. If your boss had been fair, you really would have received that promotion, and that truly would have made life much better. If that other driver had not run the red light you would not have been injured, and would not now be facing months of physical therapy. If only….

It’s interesting to note, however, that those who manage to build happy lives despite these sort of hardships do not spend a lot of time dwelling on the “If only” scenarios of life. Sure, they recognize when life has dealt them a harsh challenge. They might momentarily become sad, grief stricken or angry. But this is does not become an entrenched state of mind. They find no permanent comfort in viewing life from that perspective. It is not a mental state where they set up camp.

More often than not, when they do get dragged into those mental marsh lands, they find ways to dig themselves out. They continue to look for paths to higher ground where they can stand on the firmer road of hope, friendship, and a life of shared purpose.  

What fuels these men and women, in part, is a sober acceptance of the reality that only one person can ultimately change their life. Only one person has responsibility for their happiness. That one person, of course, is them self.

An example of this approach to life may help drive the point home. Some years ago I had been talking to a friend, Chris, at dinner when the conversation turned to the topic of his father. Chris mentioned that his dad (let’s call him Jack) had a difficult childhood. As a teen growing up in the Midwest in the 1950s, Jack unexpectedly found himself in a compromising situation. Sizing he situation up, he quickly decided that leaving the state in search of friendly environs would redound to his great advantage. Jack had heard that California was the land of opportunity, and so a young man in his teens he struck out on his own and headed off to the Golden State.

After arriving in California he bounced around from job to job, even spending some time as a professional boxer. Eventually, however, he decided that learning a trade was the way to carve out a more secure financial future. Jack figured that becoming an electrician would be a good idea: it provided a decent income, and work would always be plentiful for someone with that skill set.

Getting an electrician license required several years of apprenticeship. The rewards of being in that trade would not come easily. Even so, Jack knew that the payoff would be worth the price and apprenticed himself to a local electrician.

After several years of working long hours for very little money, Jack went to the government office that issued electrician licenses. After patiently waiting in line, he stepped up to the licensure desk where a neatly dressed woman sat. “Good morning mam. I’m here to apply for my electrician’s license.”

The woman looked puzzled and remained quiet for a moment before saying “You can’t get an electricians license.” Jack thought she had misunderstood. “I’ve got all my documents right here. All the hours I’ve apprenticed. It’s all in order.” He politely placed his paperwork on the desk.

Without looking down at the documents the women calmly replied “It’s not a matter of how many hours you’ve apprenticed. That’s not it at all. We don’t issue electrician licenses to negroes.”

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Chris finished telling the story.  I thought for a moment, then commented about how the injustice of the situation would cause me to be both angry and bitter.

It seemed a reasonable sentiment. After all, without any just cause his father had wasted several years of his life, hours of labor, and the application of his skills pursuing a goal that was foreclosed by blatant bigotry. I started to elaborate but my protests were cut short. Chris leaned back in his chair and began laughing.

Smiling and shaking his head in disbelief he said “Well, you don’t know my father. He is one of the least bitter men I’ve ever known. Nope, if he was bitter he didn’t let it stick to him. Instead he just walked away and began to think about other trades he could pursue. Didn’t take him long to land on the idea of selling real estate… and he ended up doing extremely well. I mean really, really well. My dad wasn’t one to let others determine his happiness. He took charge of his own life.”

That story struck a note. Chris’ father had not justified the bigotry that foreclosed the possibility of being an electrician. But neither did he let it define him, consume his thoughts, curtail his pursuit of success, or dampen his happiness. He focused on what he could do to carve out a life that was meaningful, full, and satisfying. As a result, he was not only freed from bitter resentment, but emotionally unburdened so as to fully enjoy the success that his continued hard work and skills would eventually bring about.


Whether we are struggling with gross injustice, misfortune, illness, or the ramifications of our own poor choices, the final responsibility for a life well lived ultimately rests on our own shoulders.

It’s true that some of us face much tougher challenges than others. The disparity in the hardships we face can seem unfair. Even so, this does not alter the reality of how we secure a full and happy life: by accepting that no matter the challenges we face, it is up to each of us to build a full and happy life.

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Those that I’ve known who do this well would not claim that it is easy. Many of them have been faced with terrible losses and setbacks. Their lives marked, at times, by great heartache. But even so they push on, not letting themselves remain focused on the pain, but relentlessly searching for ways to drink in whatever joy they can find in life.

This does not erase the sorrows that invariably must be faced. But for those who adopt this approach, it affords a road that more often than not leads to a much brighter future.

How To Make Your Marriage Last

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Five Truths about Relationships That All Married Couples Need to Understand

Recently I was asked what the core principles are for making a strong marriage. Interesting question. These sort of questions fascinate me. Trying to identify the “core”, or “basic”, foundations of something requires drilling down below the froth, and discovering those things that cannot, or should not, be ignored.

After having listened to the life stories of so many people over the course of the past three decades, I found it pretty easy to come up with a short list of core truths every couple should keep in mind (no surprise, I also have a long list).

To be thoroughly candid, my list is not solely informed by my experience as a therapist. Each of the foundations I list below are also supported by research. But, as is often the case with psychology, research simply confirms what your grandparents already knew and took for granted.

So here we go, five truths about marriage that every husband and wife should keep in mind.

#1   Your spouse is not perfect. So what? Great marriages are not made by having the perfect spouse. If that were the case, there would be no great marriages.

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Instead, great marriages are made when two people are reasonably compatible, when each looks for the good in the other, and when there is mutual support, forgiveness, and respect.

No one finds the perfect spouse. We all have our shortcomings. Dwelling on the imperfections of your spouse poisons the relationship. Learn to let the little things go. If you must focus on something, choose to focus on the good qualities of your husband or wife.

#2   Your spouse cannot make your life complete. Many young couples have the unrealistic expectation that the marital relationship will act to “fill in”, or “mend”, the broken parts of their life. To some extent this does occur, but it is not complete.

If you enter marriage believing that this wonderful person you have married will be your best friend, counselor, motivational coach, substitute father/mother figure, etc., you will be disappointed. Resentment will eventually take root. When it does, great unhappiness is not far behind.

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Instead of insisting that your spouse fill all of these functions, rely on friends, family, and yourself. By reaching out in this way you live a fuller life, and have a happier marriage.

After all, is it truly realistic to think that your spouse can meet all of your needs? Of course not. No one would even voice such an expectation. But many people unintentionally and subconsciously fall into the trap of having this mindset. Sadly, they may not come to realize this until after the pressure such demands create has resulted in a divorce.

Each of us (no matter the relationship: spouse, parent, child, friend) needs to take a sober look at our expectations. When they turn out to be unrealistic, let them go. You and your spouse will will be happier, and paradoxically, your relationship will grow closer.

#3   As is true in life more generally, you get out of your marriage what you put into it. If you invest time/thought/energy into growing a stronger and healthier relationship, you are likely to be rewarded with a terrific relationship.

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That is not a guarantee, but a principle (just the same as if you exercise and eat right you are likely to be healthier and live longer than if you never exercise or eat properly).

The effort you put into your marriage can be made more effective by candidly talking with your spouse about what is going well in the relationship. You’ll then learn what can be focused upon even more to help your marriage flourish.

Also, take the time to patiently talk about what is not going so well. Honestly consider how each of you can take steps to shore up weak areas in the relationship.

Lastly, give one another grace: let the little things go. Pick your battles.

Have this talk once a month. It’s important: put it on your calendar.

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#4   Marriage is somewhat like an investment account. The more you put into building a strong connection with your spouse (showing kindness, support, affection, and respect), the more the emotional bank account grows. Then, when you really miss the mark (forget about an anniversary, or impulsively purchase that must have item without your spouse’s approval), there will be sufficient ‘emotional funds’ to cover the loss your relationship sustains.

This approach must not be used as a ploy to allow for misbehavior – that just comes across as manipulative.

Be intentional about building intimacy, good memories, shared successes, and so forth. Be a pro-active investor in building a strong emotional bank account.

#5   Love is a verb, not a noun. Most people report that one of the important reasons they chose to get married was that they were ‘in love’ with their spouse. They had deep feelings of affection, admiration and affection for each other.

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Feelings, however, will wax and wane. There will be times in a marriage when these feelings are very weak, or altogether missing. Some men and women, faced with these weakened feelings, will then ask “Why should I stay married if I don’t love my husband/wife any longer?”

Someone who has this view of love may very well end up with multiple marriages. Feelings are fickle things; do not base your marriage on the unstable foundation of feelings.

Recognize instead that love involves more than feelings. That at its heart love is a commitment to do what is best for another, and that this commitment then needs to be expressed in daily actions that are supportive, affirming and respectful.

When this approach is taken consistently, the feelings of love that may wane at times will eventually return, mature, and root more deeply in the relationship.

Marriage: 5 rules for a strong marriage in Folsom, El Dorado Hills and Granite Bay

How To Supercharge Your Learning Curve

Becoming The Best At What You Do


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How great would you feel if you could dramatically and quickly increase some skill or area of expertise in your life? What doors might open that are now closed? Or, at a more basic level, how much more fun might life be if you could become much better at the things you love doing?

Max Deutsch is a 25-year-old entrepreneur who decided to challenge himself to ‘master’ one new skill a month over the course of a year. These challenges included solving a Rubik’s Cube in under 20 seconds; playing a 5-minute improvisational blues guitar solo; hold a 30-minute conversation in Hebrew, and more. In none of these areas did he already possess significant skills.

After having succeeded in meeting each of the first eleven challenges Max came to the final test… learn to play chess well enough to compete with, and defeat, the top rated chess player in the world, Magnus Carlsen.

I won’t spoil the ending of the story, but the important point is how Mr. Deutsch prepared himself for the match. That is, how he approached the task of rapidly increasing his prowess at chess (and each of those other challenges he had set for himself). Although the particulars of this approach are found in the previous link, the more general principles guiding his approach are what you really need to know.

Why? Because this approach can help anyone dramatically increase his or her skills in whatever area of life it is applied. It still requires time and effort (you’ve got to pay your dues) but the learning curve becomes accelerated. Put somewhat differently, using these principles means you get a lot more ‘bang for your buck’ from each hour of practice time.

Deliberate Practice at the piano

The Road To Peak Performance

So what is the secret to winning such rewards? PRACTICE.

Not just any type of practice, but deliberate practice. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology in Florida, is a leading researcher in the field of skill acquisition. He coined the term ‘deliberate practice’ to distinguish it from regular practice.

In regular practice for sports, music and other areas where success requires developing a high level of skill, there is a tendency for many people to “go through the motions” of repetitive routines. This is often justified by the idea that such repetition will develop “muscle memory”, or  it will “lay down a solid foundation.”

Partly, this is true. But for most people that approach leads to an early stagnation of skills, and they never come close to developing to their real potential.

What makes matters worse is that after someone acquires basic skills in some area of interest, they are then likely to spend more of their practice time focused on whatever abilities fall within their ‘comfort zone.’

The new guitar player, for example, having learned several basic chords is likely to focus much of his practice time continuing to play songs requiring those finger positions that have already been learned. The more challenging aspects of the guitar (barre chords, finger picking) will receive less attention.

Why does this happen? The answer is straight forward. The new guitar player derives more enjoyment from practicing those skills that provide immediate enjoyment, or a sense of competency. When the young guitarist plays familiar chords and the result is a familiar melody, gladness and great joy fill his heart.

On the other hand, when the earnest young guitarist plays barre chords, or attempts an adagio, the resulting sounds can be similar to a feral animal being caged and tormented. Not pleasant, and this fills the young guitarist with great sadness and a sense of futility.

At this point in the learning curve it becomes much more rewarding to focus one’s practice time on those skills that have developed nicely. Those skills that make the would be guitarist feel that progress has been made.

The unfortunate consequence of focusing practice time on one’s strengths is that overall progress begins to taper off. An early plateau is reached. If one strategically includes a focus on building skill where weaknesses remain, however, the learning curve looks very different.

In this case, learning continues to advance. Often in a series of step wise progressions wherein gains are made, followed by a brief leveling off before further gains are then made.

Deliberate Practice Folsom Blog

It takes persistence, a modicum of confidence, and a steady grasp of long-term rewards, in order to focus one’s practice sessions on shoring up weaknesses. Focusing on strengths is much more rewarding in the present, but as you can see from the graph above, in the long run it keeps you from living up to your potential.

Broader Applications?

This principle applies throughout many areas of our lives. Consider the financial impact of this dynamic when applied to family budgeting. Most of us are strongly tempted to focus on immediate rewards, and as a result spend money that could go toward the future on things that provide pleasure in the present. That may include new cars, clothes, large homes, vacations, dinners out, and so forth.

Other souls, those who have trained themselves to be more Spartan in their immediate indulgences, put aside large sums of their earnings and apply them to investments with the aim of enhancing their future financial success. These are the people who are most likely to have acquired a tidy ‘nest egg’ sometime later in life. As Dave Ramsey would say, they have “lived like no one else so that later, they can live and give like no one else.”

The principle is the same whether it be applied to finances, health, exercise or the practice of a skill. By overly focusing on what is immediately gratifying one ends up forfeiting greater rewards in the future.

Deliberate Practice main components

What Is Deliberate Practice?

Deliberate practice takes the opposite approach to ‘practice as usual.’ It contains the following components.

1.    Focus intensely on a small piece of the full skill set that you wish to acquire. Over time each component of the skill set will be focused upon with great intensity, and the various parts then integrated into a whole. In judo, for example, this could require the athlete to spend several weeks practicing just the initial step and body positioning required when executing a shoulder throw. After expertise is acquired on this part of the throw, the judo player then focuses on the skills needed to grasp an opponent’s arm and gi. Eventually all components of the throw will be mastered and integrated.

2.    Spend more time training on areas of weakness than areas of strength. For example, the aspiring singer will spend more time learning to hit those notes that she find difficult to reach rather than focusing on those songs with melodies that are well within her current abilities.

3.    Practice with intentionality. Take the time to consider what goal is to be reached, then break down the skills required to reach that goal into a sequence of steps. The focus of practice sessions is then placed on developing mastery of these specific skills in the order outlined by the sequenced steps. As the number of skills that have been mastered increases, you begin to integrate them one with another (just as was described in the example of learning a Judo throw).

4.    Feedback is required to practice most effectively. This can be provided by a coach, tutor, or self-observation (e.g., if your goal is to become a strong public speaker, you might record yourself giving a talk to an empty room, then listen to the recording and make notes on how your speech could be improved, and based on this self-feedback give the speech again).

Practicing without feedback is similar to trying to navigate across the ocean without looking at the stars, or referring to a compass. Feedback is necessary in order to make adjustments that lead you to your destination. That’s true whether your destination is the other side of the world, mastering a new dance step, or making a gourmet meal.


Throughout my career, I’ve seen that people are nearly always capable of achieving more than they realize. When motivation, support, and a plan for moving forward are present, people will often surprise themselves by achieving what they had thought impossible.

My challenge is that you pick a goal (it need not be lofty goal, just one that appeals to you). Then set a date to begin working toward the goal. Also set aside blocks of time throughout the week that will be devoted to practicing. Use the deliberate practice approach for developing your skills, and watch your progress steadily climb.

Once you see how well this approach works with one goal, you’ll want to use it on other goals as well. After a time, it will become a well-honed skill that you can apply to many areas of your life.

Deliberate Practice Chart


Social Anxiety In Teens

Social Anxiety In Teens: Answering A Parent's Question

Question:  I am a single mother raising a 16-year-old daughter. She has always been a very good kid, never one to act out much, and even as a teen she is well behaved. But what worries me is that she is very shy. This has caused her to avoid making new friends, trying out for sports teams, or really just getting out into the world. When she was younger I didn’t think much about it, but she is just two years away from graduating from high school and I don’t see her being able to move out and live independently if she remains this insecure. Now I’m worried.


It sounds as though your daughter suffers with social anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health nearly 10% of adolescents struggle with this fear.

You are right to be concerned. As you point out, this anxiety has robbed your daughter of some important experiences that would have helped prepare her to confidently launch off into adulthood.

It’s interesting to note that researchers have found that good social skills (which includes mastering social anxiety) when measured in kindergarten predict success in early adulthood.

Not to worry. It’s not too late to help your teen build the confidence and skills she needs to successfully and confidently transition into adulthood. Let me point to some research that back up my optimism (aside from my experience in helping many teens make this shift from anxiety to confidence). In a recent study investigators looked at the difference between socially anxious children (ages 7 to 14 years) that successfully learned the skills needed to conquer anxiety, and compared that group to anxious children who had not learned those coping skills.

This is what is called a longitudinal study. That is, the researchers measured the childrens' progress over the course of many years. What they found when they followed up, years after the study began, (the children were now young adults, between the age of 18 and 32 years) is that the youngsters who learned how to cope with social anxiety were significantly less likely to struggle as adults with substance abuse, phobias, panic attacks and anxiety in general. 

Take away lesson? It’s terrific that you are wanting to take steps to help your daughter, and it’s not too late for her to learn new skills that have the power to change her life trajectory.

So, you're wondering how to go about the task of helping your little girl. Glad you asked. Let’s look at several steps you can take.

ONE    You can begin by sharing your concerns with her. Be careful to frame your remarks in a way that it does not come across as criticism, just concern. The whole point of this conversation is to get her on board with the hard work that will follow.

Once she accepts the idea that the next two years will be devoted to building her social confidence, you can move on to pick a series of goals. Your daughter needs to help select these goals so she feels some ownership of the process.

Help her pick some goals that focus on social interaction with peers. This might include getting involved in the high school Yearbook Club, trying out for a sport, auditioning for theater, or joining one of the clubs on campus.

Those clubs/sports where she has a friend/acquaintance will be the best targets for this goal. Having a friendly familiar face will be reassuring.

Once she has joined a sports team or club she will find it relatively easy to befriend new teens. After all, they have something in common, and they need to work together as part of the club or team to which they both belong.

Do not forget to celebrate her successes along the way. If, for example, she signs up for the school Yearbook Club, be sure to congratulate her. Let her know that you are proud that she has taken this first step. Then, when she attends her first meeting at the Yearbook Club, you will also want to tell her how terrific she is for pushing aside her fears.

TWO    Encourage her to have a ‘sleep over’ with one of her current friends (at your home at first so she is more comfortable). After a couple of successful sleepovers, have her invite that same friend and a newer acquaintance to the home for another sleepover. This will stretch her socially (because she does not know the new girl that well), while providing the support of a well-known friend.

THREE    Have her obtain a part time job. Preferably in the service sector. Will she be fearful of taking this step? Yes, but there is nothing like having to interact with the public to quickly develop a sense of confidence in her ability to deal with various personalities.

FOUR    If you belong to a church have her join the youth group. This will provide more practice with interacting with peers. Moreover, many youth groups go on overnight camping trips (chaperoned by adults). Getting away from the security of her familiar surroundings and relying on peers for support during that time is a great confidence booster.

FIVE    Role model with her various social situations and coach her on how she can respond. Yes, I know, she is a teen and may think this is the dumbest thing in the world. Even so, try your best to engage her. Many children with social anxiety simply have not learned to master the social skills that allow one to comfortably interact with others.


The general idea that I outlined above is for you to gradually increase the amount of time your daughter spends in situations that she has avoided. That way she slowly develops the confidence and skills needed to face the challenges that await her in a few short years as a young adult.

If this seems overwhelming, consider seeking the help of a therapist who has experience working with anxious teens. I think you would also find it helpful to look at the ‘Anxiety’ section of the Essential Tools page on my website. You’ll find links to websites, and books that will be very helpful.

Good luck, and let me know how this turns out.

Depression & Anxiety: Acting The Way You Want To Feel

Depression anxiety antidote

Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children’s games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups—playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest.

Now, the moment you realise ‘Here I am, dressing up as Christ,’ it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretence could be made less of a pretence and more of a reality. You will find several things going on in your mind which would not be going on there if you were really a son of God. Well, stop them. Or you may realise that, instead of saying your prayers, you ought to be downstairs writing a letter, or helping your wife to wash- up. Well, go and do it.

From C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

With his typical clarity and insight, C. S. Lewis drew back the curtain on practical ways to build a stronger Christian character. But the principle he outlined applies to many aspects of life, and how to build a happier life more generally.

If we were to distill this advice into its basic form it would be something like, “If you are fearful, act brave, if you are impatient, act patiently, if you are chronically unhappy, act happy” and so forth.

Some people think this is a matter of ‘fake it till you make it.’  Perhaps there is some truth to that perspective. But that view also has the error of placing the emphasis on feelings being the true measure of what is false and what is real. For example, if one acts with patience, but feels impatient, is that ‘faking it?’ Why are the feelings of impatience accorded more status than the behavior of acting with patience? In other words, if you act patiently while feeling impatient is that faking it, or being patient?

Let’s look at another example. If you stand up to an unpleasant boss who is a bully, but you feel fearful when doing so, why should this be considered “fake” assertiveness?

If I do not feel kind, but behave with kindness and sacrifice my time/energy, to benefit my neighbor, why should this be considered “fake” kindness?

Actions matter more than feelings.

As a general rule, actions mold feelings. It is not instantaneous, it is a process. Most people have the experience of being upset with their spouse just before leaving for some social event. Driving to the event both spouses decide to behave more kindly to one another, although each is still upset with the other. By the time they arrive at the event the conflict is largely diffused. Why? Because each of them behaved in a way that led their feelings to change.

Researchers have known this for a long time. I think our grandparents knew it even before the researchers. Even so, let me give you some examples from research.

A study done at Northwestern University showed that having people slouch in their chairs caused to drop. Having people sit up straight in their chairs caused mood to become elevated. "By sitting straight -- you'll smile. Slumping you'll scowl. Body position alters the brain.“It appears to have direct biological effects on hormone levels, on cortisol levels, testosterone levels and that's the remarkable thing,” says Reinecke. It's called embodied cognition. Repeated studies have shown a change in brain chemistry is triggered by changes in body position."

Psychology Today had an interesting article on this topic wherein they noted that: “Each time you smile, you throw a little feel-good party in your brain. The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness. For starters, smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress. Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate. They facilitate messaging to the whole body when we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, or excited. The feel-good neurotransmitters — dopamine, endorphins and serotonin — are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well.” 

Feelings are important, but they must not take a preeminent position in your life. Behave in the way you wish to feel, and more often than not you will eventually find your feelings following along like a puppy learning to follow its master’s lead. Not perfectly, not as quickly as you or I would like, but little by little learning to conform to the path chosen by the master.

The response to this advice is often “Hold on. That’s a lot easier said than done.”

If that is your reaction, then we agree. It is much easier said than done.

On the other hand, it is a lot easier to try this approach, and eventually get better at it, than to live life having your feelings control your behavior. That is a recipe for frequent conflict and unhappiness. I’ve seen this too many times to count.

Feelings, when given control of behavior, become tyrants. Feelings may lead you to avoid those things you should do, that would be good for you, and are good for others around you. Feelings may also lead you to do those things you should not do, which can pretty quickly build into regret and grief.

The key to making the most of emotion, creating a life where emotions enrich your experiences rather than control your experiences, is to develop the coping skills and strategies for responding to emotion. A wild horse becomes an asset when it learns to take a bit and bridle and allow a rider on it’s back.

Coping skills are the bit and bridle for your feelings, allowing you to take control. Next week I will discuss some easy coping skills that anyone can use to gain better control over the influence of emotions. Once these are consistently put to use, life becomes increasingly happier and more fulfilling.

So my challenge is for you to pick one emotion that seems to get the best of you time and again. Spend the next week behaving in a way that is the direct opposite to that which the emotion is pushing you. Do that just once a day to start with and see if you begin to have more control over the emotion by the end of the week.

Let me know how this works out. It’s tough, especially at first, but I’ve not met anyone who cannot start to gain more control if they persist. And that is definitely a start to a happier life.

When You Are Too Busy Parenting To Remember Your Marriage

parenting children

A parenting question I responded to recently gets asked frequently. We've all been there: so busy devoting time to giving our best for our children that there is little left to give to our marriage. If you have children, the mother's dilema will probably sound familiar. The solution is simple. But with all the pressures put on parents today to be involved in nearly all aspects of their childrens' lives, it can be an exercise in battling guilt to actually put the solution into practice. Give it a read and let me know if this is a solution that has worked for you.

Question: My husband and I seldom have time to go on a date because our children (ages 8, 11 and 12) require most of our attention when we are not at work. Between keeping up the house, and taking our children to soccer practice, music lessons and school functions, we’re left exhausted and without much free time. What can we do?

You clearly are very devoted parents who want the best for your children. Unfortunately, the approach you have taken is not only exhausting, it robs your children of some important experiences they need. When parents focus on their children to the exclusion of the marital relationship, they communicate that the children are the center of the world.

Yes, I know, you want to tell me that they are in fact the most important thing in the world to you. I understand, but let’s make a distinction between them being the most important thing in your life versus being the center of the world (which is what your failure to make time for your marriage communicates).

Is that a healthy perspective for them to develop? If your child believes him/herself to be the center of the world what impact will that have on their peer relationships (most peers will view them as selfish).

Will teachers respond well to that view if your children express it through their behavior at school?

As young adults will their employers smile approvingly when they assert their central place of importance?

I’m going to assume you answered “No” to each of those questions.

Here is something that I have found very helpful to remember when raising my children. The job of a parent is to raise children who become healthy, productive adults who “play well with others.” This is a great gift to give to a child. Feeling loved, valued, and recognizing the he or she is not the center of the universe, although they may very well own all the real estate of your heart.

If you are still unconvinced, take a moment to think about how many adults have you admired who believe themselves to be the center of the world? Not many, right?

More precisely, zero, zilch, none.

So why would anyone want to raise a child with the burden of believing the world should revolve around him/her? Of course, no parent wants to do that, but it is easy to fall into the trap of conveying that message by putting aside important commitments/relationships for the sake of our children.

Please don’t misunderstand. Sacrificing for your child is a good thing. Even a noble thing. But it needs to be done with due consideration of balancing other things of importance. Such as the health of your marriage.


Children need to understand that they are deeply loved, that they are supported, and that their parents believe in them. They should not, however, grow up believing they are the center of the world. That saddles them with a liability.

To help your children develop a healthy perspective about their place in life you and your husband need to change your approach to parenting. How so you ask?  Quite simply, it is by putting your marriage first and your children’s affairs second. NOT your children’s wellbeing second, but your children’s affairs (such as soccer, music lessons, help with homework, etc.).

This will mean that your children will not be involved in as many activities. Moreover, your children, even at this young age, will be doing more chores around the house (mom and dad are not the hired help, everyone needs to pitch in).

Starting now, as in “right away”, you and your husband should carve out a weekly date night.

Also, make sure that during most evenings of the week you and your husband have some ‘grown up’ time, 30 minutes or more just to yourselves. Sure, the children can be around, but they are not to interrupt your conversation.

If you take this advice and follow it for several months the exhaustion will lessen dramatically, and your children will be comforted and strengthened by the devotion they see their parents expressing to one another.

Let me know how things work out.


A Simple Fix For Depression?

Do you get annoyed with headlines that lead you to believe there is a simple solution to some problem with which you are wrestling? I know it irritates me…. And I bet it bothers you as well.

This happens frequently in media reports of “remarkable cures” for medical and psychological problems.  Today we are going to look at an example of a miracle “cure” for depression. Spoiler alert: The take away message is DO YOUR OWN QUICK RESEARCH when reading headlines that seem too good to be true.  

The example I will use is the reporting done on some research that took place last year. The research generated nearly a million page views on the internet. Impressive.

Here is what happened.

Emily Tarleton, a graduate student and researcher at the University of Vermont looked at whether taking magnesium supplements had any impact on depression. She was able to get approximately 120 mildly/moderately depressed adults to be in her study. Half of the group took 248mg of magnesium chloride each day for six weeks. The other half did not. A questionnaire was used to measure levels of depression. The change in depression scores at the end of six weeks was the measure of improvement (the greater the difference, the more depression had lowered). At the end of the six weeks the group that had not received magnesium chloride began to take the supplement on a daily basis. At the end of the next six weeks the improvement of this group was also measured.

The findings were that each group experienced significantly lower depression scores at the end of six weeks of magnesium supplementation.

Does that make sense so far? A nice study that certainly suggests that magnesium may be helpful in reducing depressive symptoms in a fairly short time. Does the study suggest that the depressive symptoms went away altogether? No.

Does the study suggest that magnesium works better than standard medication? No, there was no comparison group of depressed people who were started on an antidepressant.

Does the study suggest that magnesium works better than a placebo (for example, a sugar pill)? No, there was no placebo group to compare.

All of this is understandable. No study is perfect, and this was a graduate student who very likely was trying to do research on a slim budget. It’s a nice little study on an important topic.

Ms. Tarleton did a good job of using the data of 120 people (give or take) to raise interest in the role of magnesium in treating depression. She was, I want to point out, very modest about what the results meant… mainly that this looks promising and more research is needed.

Now, let’s look at what the popular media reported about the study.  From Reader's Digest:

This Mineral Fights Depression—and It’s Cheaper and Safer Than Prescription Drugs

Not a bad headline really. But the writer goes on to misstate what the study found. “Ultimately, Tarleton’s findings suggest that the effects of magnesium are just as beneficial for depression sufferers as prescription antidepressants such as Prozac.” 

Really? We should draw this conclusion even though no comparison Prozac group was in the study? That’s a stretch.

Another outlet breathlessly proclaimed:

Magnesium found to treat DEPRESSION better than antidepressant drugs: New science”

Again, an odd way to sum up a study that did not include an antidepressant comparison group.

Then there is this…

Magnesium in Right Doses Completely Reverses Depression: Breakthrough Study

It is a little baffling. The author did not state that her study showed that “magnesium completely reverses depression.” She did point out that the group taking magnesium showed a meaningful reduction in symptoms of depression. Completely reversed depression? It would have been great had there been such evidence, but that is not case.

Is magnesium helpful to people who struggle with depression? The study we looked at suggests it might be. There are other studies that also would lead me to conclude that magnesium supplementation is a promising method for reducing depression in some people.

Emphasis on “promising” and “some people.”

But the headlines would lead you to a very different conclusion. A conclusion that might lead to you and me to have unrealistic expectations, disappointment, or perhaps even down the path of forgoing more proven effective treatments for depression (such as talk therapy, life style changes, and medication).

Conclusion We need to approach health related articles in the popular media with some caution. Neither disregarding them altogether, nor immediately accepting them at face value. Just taking a few minutes to look at the original source will often help make things much more clear.

I wonder whether there is anything you have read recently where this advice might be helpful?

Commitment Phobia: What Drives This Fear

Therapy Folsom Granite Bay El Dorado Hills

Recently I was asked why it is that some people never enter into a mature, thoroughly committed relationship? Although there are many possible reasons for this fear, most of the time it boils down to one of the following.

ONE: Peter Pan Is Alive and Well


This is more common in men than women. The person simply does not wish to grow up. Being an adult requires that you place your needs (at least much of the time) second to those of others. Particularly those with whom you have a commitment. Moreover, a committed relationship has obligations attached to it, and this means one must be accountable to someone else. 

TWO: Ghosts From the Past


Another very common theme seen in both men and women. Those who grew up in homes where the parents had a horrible relationship are more likely to be afraid of commitment than those raised by parents who had a reasonably happy relationship. This is particularly true if there were no alternative role models (e.g., happily married grandparents, or close friends whose parents were happily married).

THREE: Greener Pastures Await


Although seen in both men and women, it is somewhat more with men. There is always the prospect that another partner will more fully satisfy one's desires and longings. People who perpetually struggle with the Greener Pastures fallacy have failed to accept that no one will be a perfect match. Anyone with whom they develop a relationship will have strengths and weaknesses.

The Greener Pasture aficionado fails to see that it is not a matter of finding a soul mate who is without flaws. It is all about finding a soul mate with the qualities you cannot live without, and the flaws that you can tolerate (and keep in mind, your soul mate will need to live with your flaws as well, so let’s not put on airs).

FOUR: No Dice, Home Slice

These individuals are simply terrified of rejection and failure. They have no problem being in a relationship as long as it does not involve meaningful commitment. When the “we” of a relationship starts to be more important than the “me” of the relationship, these folks head for the hills.  


Asking for a deeper commitment from a "failure phobic" man or woman is similar to asking Superman to take a bite of a kryptonite appetizer. They shake with fear like the lead singer in a rumba band and quickly make towards the exit.

Men and women who are terrified of rejection/failure in relationships believe that were they to make a commitment and it did not work out, they would be crushed. Devastated beyond repair. Their solution to this fear? Play it safe, don’t risk too much, don’t take that big step into commitment.

Very sad. At the end of life, no one looks back and says “I’m so glad I played it safe. My life has been so rich and full because I always played it safe and never risked my heart.”

So those are the four main obstacles to commitment that I’ve noticed. But people can change, and no one is destined to remain stymied by these obstacles. It’s a matter of having the courage to try something new.



How To Beat The Blues: Part I

Therapy Anxiety Depression Trauma Folsom Granite Bay El Dorado Hills


“I’m not sure why I am here” Jason said as he leaned forward in his chair. Then laughing slightly, he added, except my better half insisted. His wife, Laura, was sitting on the couch next to him. After waiting a moment she broke the silence “It’s because Jason just isn’t himself any longer. I don’t know what’s happened. The guy I married ten years ago seems to have disappeared.”

In the following hour I learned that prior to the past year Jason had been a vibrant, engaged, and thoughtful husband. Their two young children were frequently the focus of his attention when he was not at work. As a family they were always doing something together. Camping, travel, game nights, visits with friends: they were an active and happy family.

Family life had changed dramatically over the last twelve months. Now Jason’s interactions with his children were brief and lacking in any emotional connection. Bedtime stories had dropped away long ago, and playtime with the kids in the back yard had been replaced by Jason sitting alone in front of his computer.

Most evenings Jason would remain secluded in his study until others were asleep. He often ran late for work – in the past he had always been the first to arrive at the office. Once at work he became easily distracted and fatigued.

At first, Laura had reacted with concern when these changes in Jason’s behavior had begun. But as the months dragged on, and she more and more took on the role of a single parent, she became resentful as well. Feeling like she had reached the limits of her patience Laura gave an ultimatum.

Either Jason would begin to ‘show up’ as a husband and parent, or she would ask that he leave the house. “You want a divorce?” he had responded.  “No” she replied, “But I do want some space… at least if you’re not going to be here for us. We’ve got to do something. I can’t go on like this, I just can’t.”

That “something” that they decided to do was get marriage counseling. They thought if they could just learn to communicate better then they might be able to rebuild the sense of intimacy and support that they had once enjoyed. Neither Jason nor Laura knew why they had drifted apart, but they felt certain that if they could learn to communicate better they had a chance to turn things around.

The problem with this plan is that they had always communicated just fine. Poor communication was not at the heart of this problem. The real issue was that Jason was depressed. Not just mildly depressed either. He was struggling with a major depression.

He simply did not recognize the symptoms of depression. The things he thought of when that term came up included crying throughout the day and having thoughts of suicide. Although these two features are symptoms of depression, there are many others. In fact, someone can be very depressed and only have a small handful of symptoms. But if those symptoms are extreme, the depression can be devastating.

If you wonder whether you might be experiencing depression I suggest you take the following online test (click here). Although it is not a substitute for the sort of thoroughgoing evaluation you would receive by visiting a therapist, the results may provide helpful insights for you to think over more carefully. That point is worth emphasizing. No single test can determine a psychological diagnosis. So if you take the test and end up with a high score, well, that's something to take time thinking about. But don't jump to conclusions that it means you are absolutely, positively, without a doubt suffering with a Major Depression. 

Next week we will look at two simple things you can do to fight back against depression. You won’t want to miss it (really, you won’t). See you then.

Trauma Part III: More Simple Ways to Gain Relief

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Therapy Anxiety Depression Trauma Folsom Granite Bay El Dorado Hills

Last week we looked at the first of three ways that you can push back against the symptoms of PTSD. In today’s post we will look at two more approaches. I should repeat, however, what was stated last week: These suggestions are not a replacement for therapy.

Two Ways to Lesson the impact of PTSD

Stay Focused on the Present

If you struggle with PTSD it is very likely that you have several of the following symptoms:

    Nightmares, often but not always related to the trauma incident

    Sudden emotional upset due to something/someone reminding you of the trauma

    Frequently feeling ‘on guard’ or nervous

    Making extra efforts to avoid those things that remind you of the trauma incident

    Frequently experience a sense of guilt, shame, sadness

(For more information about these and other symptoms, look at the Penn Behavioral Health website).

All of these symptoms can be traced in one way or another to a tendency to be pulled back into the past. Our brains use traumatic events the same way that fire engine sirens are used: to gain attention and signal that an emergency has occurred somewhere. The problem is that unlike firefighters, who use the siren only when an emergency is taking place, the PTSD brain blasts the darn siren even when there is no emergency. The PTSD brain spends way too much time thinking about the past, or looking for signs in the present that the bad things of the past are about to be repeated.

It can be exhausting. You need to get some separation between you and the trauma, between you and your past traumatic experiences. One way to gain this distance is to stay focused on the present. Easier said than done you say? Agreed, but there are some strategies that can help. Let’s look at take a look at some ways you can get some serious distance from your traumatic past.

Begin to focus more on the present. Focusing on the present shifts attention away from the trauma of the past.

What can you do to be more ‘present centered’ Let me give you three things to get started upon (use one or all three… or come up with others on your own).

Find an interest, hobby, whatever you wish to call it, and begin regularly spending time involved in that pursuit. If you had an interest/hobby in the past and stopped engaging in it, now is the time to renew that passion.

Perhaps you don’t really feel interested in pursuing anything. You don’t want to go fishing, or crochet a sweater, etc. Understood. But do it anyway. If you wait for the mood to strike you may be waiting a very long time. Besides, our mood generally follows our behavior. Begin to act as though you wish to pursue a former hobby, and before you know it, a genuine interest will have been rekindled. This, in turn, will help shift your attention away from the troubles of the past. In time, you will find it easier to maintain a present centered focus for longer periods of time.

Become more invested in your close relationships. That might be with your spouse, children, or friends. Take a moment to think carefully about ways in which you would like the relationship to grow, and how to reach that goal.

The main thing is genuinely investing yourself in strengthening the relationship. That will take some thought, and energy, but it will be worth the effort. Close, supportive and rewarding relationships help draw people’s attention into the present and develop a sense of optimism regarding the future.

Start doing volunteer work. This is like taking a super multivitamin for your mental health… and it’s good for your physical health as well. 

It does not have to be done every day, but try and fit in an hour or two of volunteer work every week or two. This could be at your local grammar school, church, food bank, soup kitchen, City Park, etc.

You will end up feeling better for having helped others and your focus of attention will have shifted to the present (as you engaged in doing good works). Moreover, you can use memories of this work to re-focus your attention when you find yourself being drawn into memories of the trauma.

Dogs: Man’s best friend and a proven help with ptsd

There are many research supported health benefits that come with pet ownership. You probably knew that already. But did you know that dogs are used to help reduce symptoms of PTSD? Let me be clear, dogs helped reduce PTSD symptoms…. Not cats, fish, reptiles, or parakeets. Dogs… service dogs to be exact.

So what should you do with that information? Well, if you already have a dog that’s terrific: it may be that you hit the jackpot and your four-legged friend is a natural therapist. This could be a good time to start taking Fido on short daily walks (around the neighborhood is good, but out in nature is even better). Perhaps take your dog with you when running errands, or enroll in an obedience course (if your dog is like my dog, this would be the first thing to do).

If you do not already have a dog this is a good time to consider whether your lifestyle and budget would be a good fit for having a canine companero. Although dogs can provide some relief from PTSD symptoms, the added stress of caring for a dog can also make things worse. It really depends upon your individual circumstances, and your temperament. The type of dog you select will also make a huge difference. So select a dog that does not require more care than you can reasonably provide, and one that has a temperament that would be calming. Finding the right dog requires a little research about different breeds. All of this effort will pay off, however, when you find the dog that is just right for you.

That ends Part III of the Trauma series. You now have some basic information on PTSD, what brings it about, common symptoms, and simple ways to push back and regain control over your life.

Keep in mind, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop symptoms of PTSD. For those that do, however, it is important to begin the process of vanquishing those symptoms as soon as possible. If you find that your efforts do not bring about significant relief, find a therapist who can help. 


Trauma Part II: Simple Ways to Gain Relief

Therapy Anxiety Depression Trauma Folsom Granite Bay El Dorado Hills

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

“Who would you go to if you had a bad dream in the middle of the night?” I asked. The young girl seated across from me responded by looking away. A moment later she began to cry. Tears streamed down her face. Although the question I had asked would seem, to most observers, innocent enough, for this youngster it triggered a storm of painful emotions.

Because she had grown up in a home where violence was a part of everyday life, and where parents had left her alone at home for days at a time, my question hit a nerve. Vivid memories rushed to the surface and triggered a cascade of painful emotions. She quickly became overwhelmed, and then began to ‘shut down’ as a way to retreat from the past.

The problem this presented at that moment was not simply that this little girl momentarily felt overwhelmed. The deeper difficulty was that I needed to know the details of that painful history if I was going to be of any help to her. When a person who has been traumatized cannot speak of the trauma, being of help becomes more challenging (although not impossible by any means). After sympathizing with how painful her memories must be, I suggested we take a different approach.

“Could you imagine that your memories are showing up on a big flat screen television?” I asked. Looking a little surprised she eventually shrugged her shoulders and nodded ‘yes’ (she probably figured this was just one more therapist making a weird suggestion).

Going further I asked “How far away from us should we put the television?” Her brow wrinkled in thought, and after a few moments she said “Put it just outside the office.” “Sure, we can do that” I responded. “As a matter of fact, let’s put it outside the office door and way down the hallway. And I want you to have the remote so you can control the volume and press pause when you need to.”

She smiled at the thought of having a remote control for her memories. “Should we also build a see through bullet proof, fear proof, nightmare proof glass wall between the television and our office?” I elaborated. Her smile grew bigger.

“OK, fine, we’ll do that. Just tell me how thick it needs to be” was my next question. “Hmmm. Let me think” she said taking a deep breath. “Two feet. Make it two feet thick.” And so it went until we agreed that her memories would be projected on a large flat screen television forty feet away and separated from her by a two thick bullet proof glass wall that went from the floor to the ceiling. In her mind’s eye she held a pink remote control.

Now that we had all of that settled I once more asked who would comfort her at night when she had nightmares. “Don’t forget” I reminded, “The television screen is way down the hall, so you may have to squint some to see those memories.” The little girl smiled again, paused briefly and then answered my question. For the next twenty minutes she spoke haltingly, but with great detail, about the frightening nights she had experienced at home.

Although her feelings of anxiety were still present, they were no longer overwhelming. They could be tolerated, and her memories could be put on ‘pause’ when the need arose. She had begun to feel a small sense of mastery over her past. Together we had found a way for her to feel safe even when remembering horrific events.

When dealing with trauma, establishing a feeling of safety is key. At times safety is found by creating emotional distance (as in the above example), and at other times it can be established by enhancing a sense of competency. In certain instances it is enough to build a strong sense of connection with others in order to engender the essential sense of security. Whatever the means, feelings of safety are critical.

How To Lessen The Impact of PTSD

In today’s post I will briefly describe the first of three ways that someone struggling with PTSD can build a sense of safety, and thereby lessen the impact of trauma on their day to day life. As one becomes better at sustaining this state of mind, the brain begins to rewire neuronal connections. The result is that it becomes easier to maintain a sense of stability and self-control. (Keep in mind that the following is not intended to replace psychotherapy). In my next post I will describe a couple more ways to fight back against PTSD.


There has been a great deal of research on meditation and its impact on emotional well-being. Without a doubt, meditation helps most people feel more relaxed, balanced, happy and secure.

The type of meditation required to achieve these goals does not require going to a mountain top, burning incense, or crossing your legs behind your neck and chanting (although the mountain top sounds pretty appealing, so count me in on that trip). Instead, you can meditate while sitting in your favorite chair, or in the office with the door shut and your feet on the desk, or laying by the beach. Heck, if you really want you could meditate at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the family dog at your feet.

The main thing required for effective meditation is a quiet space – no distractions for 15 to 20 minutes. A reasonably comfortable place to sit or lay down is also needed. After you have the time set aside, and a place to meditate, begin the process by taking a few slow deep breaths.

At the same time begin to clear your thoughts by vividly imagining a calming scene. Paint a picture in your mind’s eye of each sensory element of that scene: the sights, sounds, smell and feel of the location. If, for example, you imagine being on the beach then you will want to imagine the white sand, blue water, clouds, warm breeze, soft sand, the smell of salt in the air and the sound of waves.

For many, just staying in this relaxed state for the duration of your meditation time is enough to bring about the benefits I mentioned earlier. Others, however, will benefit from going over a script that guides them into a relaxed state. If this is more to your liking go to Barbara Fredrickson’s website and listen to recorded meditations.

Fifteen to twenty minutes a day gives good results for most people. There is, however, no magic number. Experiment to see what works best for you. Is it ten minutes twice a day? Fifteen minutes every afternoon? Everyone is different, so find the schedule that works best for you.

Try meditating for at least two weeks and see if it makes a difference. Don’t meditate once and then give up. As with most things in life, this is not a one shot won and done deal. Be consistent, be persistent, and give it a little time. The longer you include meditation in your daily routine the greater the benefit. After you’ve given it a try, I would love to hear how well it worked out for you.

Stayed tuned for next week’s post where I describe two more simple approaches for pushing back against PTSD.


Living Your Best Life By Overcoming Challenges

Somewhere between toddlerhood and adulthood most of us learn to dial back our determination or desire to persist when faced with failure. We become complacent and settle for too little in life. We set aside dreams after failing to reach our goals after the first, second or third attempt. Many of us let the fear of failure keep us from experiencing what life holds for us.