The Wisdom of Restraint

When I was a little kid, my mother taught me a lot about dealing with people whom I didn’t especially like. Basically, there were only two rules. I them both under the heading, “The Wisdom of Restraint.”

The first one was about guarding what came out of my own mouth, and the second one was about unkind things that others said to me. And today, when the divide between differing opinions is so sharp and deep, I’m grateful for Mom’s teachings.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice . . .

The first one–the guide for how to speak to others–was, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” It took me a while to understand that she didn’t mean I should never speak my truth if it was likely to offend. She meant I had to learn to express myself in a way that took others’ sensitivities into consideration and to respect them, no matter how silly or dumb their viewpoints seemed to be.

But until you’re mature enough to articulate your truth clearly and with tact, the “don’t say anything at all” part of Mom’s rule is a good guideline, and one which, it seems to me, a lot of us could well learn to adopt. If we spent less time mindlessly parroting slogans and sound bites and more time listening to reasoned, researched, and fact-based arguments, we might find that we had something worthwhile to contribute.

Otherwise, all we’re doing is adding fuel to already raging fires. And that’s no way to find workable answers to our world’s deep and complex problems. In fact, it makes them worse. It keeps us from even knowing what questions to ask in order to find solutions.

If you’re having trouble understanding how someone on the other side of a political argument could possibly believe what they believe, I highly recommend you take the time to listen to moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s wonderful Ted Talk, “Healing the Divide.” And heed his advice, too, about reading Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People. This time-tested guide will show you how to say things tactfully and help you communicate more effectively in all aspects of your life. You can download it for free here.

Mom’s Second Rule

Okay, I know it’s not well-understood in today’s victim-culture, but Mom’s second rule holds wisdom nonetheless. She didn’t make it up. She just recognized it as sage advice that I needed to know: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

That rule taught me that I didn’t need to be offended just because someone was being offensive. If I was secure in myself, I could take their words as an expression of their opinion and nothing more. And they were as entitled to their opinion as I was to mine.

Everybody lives in his own reality bubble. But we all share things in common, too. If what you say shocks me, I don’t need to react defensively. Instead, I can tell you that I don’t see things the same way. I can be curious about why you see things as you do and, if you’re open to talking about it, share my own viewpoint and reasoning with you. Who knows? Maybe we’ll end up being the best of friends. Maybe we’ll be stimulated to continue talking about the issue over time, and both expand our views in the process. Maybe we’ll cordially agree to disagree, to like all the other things there are to like about each other.

In essence, the “sticks and stones” rule is about learning how to respond rather than to react. It takes practice. It goes against our natural grain. But it’s a pathway to peace, both internally and between opposing parties. And these days, when our weapons are not sticks and stones but implements of total destruction, it’s the only pathway we can take and still survive.

Wishing peace and healing for us all.


Why Fathers Matter

Father Matter

Sadly, in our throw-away culture, one of the things that’s increasingly being viewed as disposable is fathers.  Take a survey of people between 22 and 37—prime child-bearing ages—and you’ll find that only about half of them think kids need both a mom and dad to grow up happily1.   But the truth is that fathers matter.  A whole bunch.  Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson  says that it’s demoralizing to grow up without a father in your life.  You feel cast aside, as if you don’t matter much.  Without a dad the world can seem a dismal place.  “The good father,” he says, “helps you to become your best self.”

What Fathers Do For Us

Fathers are the encouragers in our lives.  They’re the ones who say, “Go ahead!  You can do it!” even when we’re pretty sure we can’t.  They believe in our potential.  They teach us to take risks, to try, to be daring, even in the face of fear.

They set limits and hold up standards, teaching us self-control and responsibility.2  And as Peterson says, it’s bearing responsibility that gives life its meaning.

Dads hold out expectations for us.  They push us to excel.  Feeling a father’s pride in your accomplishments helps you strive to do and be your best.

When I was growing up, I took piano lessons.  And even when I felt I had mastered a piece of music, my dad would nod and smile and say, “Keep practicing.  You’ll get it yet.”   In time, I became good enough to place highly in competitions.  Then I would get from him the words I longed to hear:  “Good job.”  And that meant more than any trophy or ribbon.

Unlike mothers, who tend to talk to us in our own language levels, Dads help us expand our vocabularies by talking with a broader, more adult range of words.

It’s the rough and tumble side of dads, who tickle and wrestle with us, who teach us sports and games and skills, that teaches us how to deal with the world head-on, to be independent and to assert ourselves.   We learn from their roughhousing how to be resilient in the face of defeat, and how to brush defeat aside.

They tell us stories from their worlds that show us the positive value of competition and take us to new  places that we wouldn’t dare go on our own.  They instill confidence in us, support us, and help us feel secure.

They’re the ones who say, “Enough is enough!” teaching us about rules and about what it means to be moral and fair.  It’s no wonder that kids with fathers do better in school, are more playful, and learn to use humor to cope with setbacks.

Fathers Matter

If you are fortunate enough to have had a father in your world, take time to tell him that he matters to you, that you’re grateful for all he has taught you.  And if you’re a father, a step-father, or a father-figure in someone’s life, know that your role is not only important, but irreplaceable, and take pride in that.  Dads make us better people and the world a better place.

Happy Father’s Day, you Dads out there.  A father’s love is fierce, and sometimes it’s not an easy job, keeping the balance between being strong and being harsh.  But that fierce love gives us our strength and courage.  And as Peterson says, the world would be a much more dismal place without you.


1 The Importance of Fathers (According to Science)

2 A Father’s Importance for Children: Thoughts for Father’s Day




Focused Intention: Remembering Your Best Self

Your Best Self


Whether you’re trying to improve a relationship, get to the gym more often, finish that report, or clean out the garage, one of the keys to achieving your goals is remembering your best self—the you who you want to be. The things we’re aiming to achieve, after all, are a reflection of the values we hold and the traits we want to express. Maintain a focused intention on those things and watch the barriers to achieving your goals melt away.

Here’s a simple two-part process you can use to move more easily toward any goal.

Identifying Who You Want to Be

First, think about what you’re hoping to get from achieving your goal. Ask yourself the classic “WIIFM” question: What’s in it for me? Even if the result you’re aiming for is represented by something tangible, like that finished report or a clean garage, if you think about it, what you really want is the feeling that you lived out a value that you hold in high regard. You want the experience of holding the mindset or attitude that the process of achieving your goal asks of you.

Suppose, for example, that you want to improve your relationship with your partner who has been irritating you lately. What mindset or attitude could you adopt that might smooth things out? Who do you really want to be when you relate to her? Someone who is more patient, maybe? More caring? More empathic? More cheerful?

Imagine setting an intention to express those traits. Imagine how it would feel being that person in your relationship. Imagine how your partner would respond to a person like that.

Or suppose you have to work on an assignment that you’ve been putting off. Who would you have to be to dive into it? What traits could you express? More curiosity? Keener interest? A heightened sense of responsibility? More inventiveness?

No matter what you’re aiming to achieve, your goal is asking you to focus on being who you need to be in order to achieve it. When you identify the traits you want to use and develop a focused intention to live them in your daily life, they will carry you toward your goal. It’s just a matter of remembering who you want to be—and step two, below, will show you how to remember.

If you need a little prompting to decide what traits you might want to adopt, check out this handy little list: Positive Traits for Building Your Best Self.

Focused Intention

The second step in remembering who you want to be is creating a focused intention using a simple practice called the PARK technique. It anchors your intention to live out the traits you want to express, and doing it takes only a minute or two.

Begin by choosing two or three traits you think will work best for accomplishing your goal. Then say to yourself, preferably out loud, “My intention is to be filled with ___________ and _________ .”

Next, take a couple minutes to close your eyes and remember a time when you felt each of them and let yourself experience that feeling as fully as you can. Feel a little smile on your face and, as you feel your first intended feeling, say its name while you tap the heart region of your chest three times—“Capable. Capable. Capable.” Then do it with the next intended feeling.

Great! You have created your focused intention. Next, you activate and strengthen it with these two daily practices:

First, as soon as you wake in the morning, before you get out of bed, remember your intention, repeating the traits to yourself.

Second, as you go through your day, do the PARK exercise to reinforce and nurture it. (A great way to remember it is to do it on the hour, or to do it before each meal.) Here’s how:

PPause in whatever you are doing, momentarily setting it aside.

ABecome Aware: Allow yourself to become aware of the present moment. Do a quick body-scan, closing your eyes if you like, and let go of any accumulated tension. Then notice the data your senses are bringing to you: What are you seeing? Hearing? Smelling? Tasting? What is your skin feeling? Also, do a quick review of all you have accomplished in the past hour and acknowledge yourself for it. You can do all of this very effectively in a matter of a 10-15 seconds. If you can take a full 30 seconds with it, enjoying the richness of the moment, you’ll find it especially relaxing.

RRemember: Briefly touch your heart center and allow the feeling of your intentions to be in your awareness for a moment. Know that they are alive within you and gently guiding you. (If you’re in a public situation and uncomfortable touching your heart center, simply turn your attention to your heart.)

KKeep on Task: Return your attention to the task at hand or with the next one on your list.

That’s it! Choose two or three traits as vehicle for reaching your goal, install your intention to be immersed in them, do a morning reminder when you wake and practice PARK as you go through your day.

This practice is one of the favorites of my coaching clients, by the way. I hope you’ll give it a try and experience the wondrous well-being and success that it can bring you as you move toward your goals.

Wishing you delicious intentions!


Positive Traits for Building Your Best Self

My Best Possible Self

Here’s a handy list of traits you can use to identify your best self, the you that you want to be in your relationships, in your work, in achieving your goals.

Play with them. Pick the ones that best describe you or the ones that represent the you that you want to be.

For more information about creating your Best Possible Self and the ways that it can serve you, see:

Lovable You: A Best-Self Inventory

Your Best Possible Self

Focused Intention: Remembering Your Best Self

Positive Traits List



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The Devil on Your Shoulder: Overcoming Self-Sabotage


I’m one of those people who likes order.   I’m not a wholehearted “neat freak,” but clutter bothers me.  So I was kind of embarrassed when I realized I had walked past a leaf that was lying on my kitchen floor about four times, bothered every time by the fact that it was there.  Why didn’t I just pick it up when I first noticed it?  Ah.  Self-Sabotage had struck.  I had bowed to the whispers of the devil on my shoulder.

We all have one.  It’s that part of us that holds us back from getting what we really want, from being who we really want to be.  It’s the evil little devil that tricks us into believing all the bad stuff it whispers to us about ourselves is true.  We’re weak, it tells us.  Or vulnerable, incapable, worthless, needy, too tired, foolish, stupid, careless, clumsy, lazy, irresponsible, unlovable, and probably unattractive, too.  Sheesh!  You can see why I call it a devil.

It’s as tricky as one, too.  It loves to reinforce our bad habits.  “Go ahead,” it says soothingly.  “Take a nap.  Have another slice of pizza.  Have a drink.  Have a smoke.  You deserve it.”  Or maybe it says, “Don’t bother trying that.  You know you’ll only fail.”  It urges us to spend money we don’t have, to eat what we shouldn’t, to let people take advantage of us, to lie a little, to cheat a little, to be mean to our loved ones, to isolate ourselves, not to make an effort to achieve, not to take a risk that might win us all the marbles.

Its mission is to rob us of all that’s good in our lives by tricking us into doing whatever is against our best interests.

Noticing the Stop Signs

But here’s the good news.  You can defeat it.   Overcoming self-sabotage is simply a matter of becoming aware of the little devil’s voice.  When I talk with my clients, I sometimes call that “noticing the stop signs.”  Begin by noticing what the self-sabotage devil is saying to you when you’re about to do something that you know you shouldn’t do–or when you find yourself not doing something you know that you really need to do to move toward your goal.

My personal little devil, for instance, was whispering things like “Not now.  You’re too tired.  You can do it later,” when I noticed the wayward leaf on my floor.   It spoke in a soothing voice, as if it was comforting my irritation and trying to lift the stress of it from my shoulders.  But what it was really doing was preventing me from taking responsibility for solving the problem—and thereby insuring I would continue to feel irritation.  See what I mean about “tricky?”

One of my clients is trying to save money for his wedding, but he has trouble with impulse-buying.  I asked him to notice what the devil on his shoulder is telling him about why he should go ahead and purchase that little trinket or treat right now.  I’m still waiting to learn what he found out.  But whatever he finds out, the awareness will keep him from buying into the self-sabotaging devil’s ploy.

That’s why noticing what the devil on your shoulder is whispering to you is so powerful.  Your awareness of it throws a monkey wrench into its game plan.   Suddenly you spot how it’s justifying the choice to do what’s not in your best interest.  Just notice.

You won’t always hear words, per se, in your mind.  But you can learn to notice the moment of decision, the moment the “stop sign” pops into your awareness and see what you’re feeling.   Even if you have already given in to it—you walked past the bit of clutter, you ate the piece of chocolate cake, you bought the new shirt—you can ask yourself what message the self-sabotage devil was using to trigger your choice.

If you will do only that—notice—you will develop awareness of what’s happening as its happening.  And that lets you say to the self-sabotage devil, “Oh no you don’t!  You’re not going to get me this time.”

Move to Your Point of Power

Recognize, too, that the stop signs it throws up at you, the messages it whispers, aren’t coming from the adult you.  They’re remnants of your past, reflecting your child’s-eye-view of what your parents or caretakers or teaches said, or of the models they presented to you of what a grown-up does.  But you’re not a child now; you can decide for yourself.  You can choose to distance yourself from old patterns.

Last week, we talked about the present being your Point of Power.  When you notice a stop sign, pull yourself into the present.  Wake up from the self-sabotage trance and remember that you’re here, now, and that in this moment, you get to choose what you truly want to do, who you truly want to be, what will best move you toward your aims.

So notice.  Just that.  Oh, and maybe tilt your head a little towards the “Best You” Angel that’s sitting on your other side, too.