How To Stop Spinning Your Wheels

We have had a particularly heavy snowfall this winter and I have very little experience driving in snow. Need I say more about my frequent experiences of spinning the wheels my car and having to be towed out of my predicament?

 How many times have you been stuck in a certain mode of thought?

Have you found your self stuck in a rut that could well be your intellectual grave?

In his book “How To Change Your Mind” Michael Pollan describes radical and effective ways that we can break out of the deep patterns of thought. These tendencies keep us stuck in everything from drug addiction to depression to not finding meaning in life. Granted Pollan’s solution through the use of psychedelics would hardly be embraced in the corporate world today (maybe tomorrow?). However his thesis of how we succumb to mental rigidity stands true for all of us.

Getting out of these deeply ingrained and habitual ways of thought is the key to everything from living life more fully to developing a groundbreaking strategy for our organization

 For instance how does one break out of the following patterns of thought?

 “We have always believed this or done things this way”

“Why fix it if it isn’t broken?”

Getting Unstuck

Here are some possible ways we can stop spinning our wheels.

1. Awareness of one’s position and the courage to risk change. There comes a point where we have to have the courage to admit, “This is not working for me”. That admission could relate to everything from a fad diet to a policy of employee or customer engagement.

2. Having an effective devil’s advocate who calls out “The emperor has no clothes” is something most of us resist hearing. That may because we are afraid of change or reluctant to give up a position that we may have espoused for years. Killing our sacred cows is not easy to do.

3. Asking yourself “What really matters to me?” or for your organization “What is our core mission?” An honest answer to both those questions will help realign our thinking.

4. A commitment to diversity of thought and team selection. The more I associate and work with folks who are not like me and who see the world in different ways, the more likely I am to become unstuck and pursue new and productive ways of thinking.


 How have you become unstuck enough to pursue paradigm shifting ways?

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Imagine A World Where – Building Your Field of Dreams

To some, imagination is black box stuff, pure mystery. But think about it. What does it really take to imagine something?

We used to imagine all the time when we were children. But somewhere some of us were told, “Stop imagining things!” That voice became our inner critic that suppressed musings like 

“I wish”

“What if I tried this?”

“Just suppose that”

“Who says it can only be done this way?”

These statements are a way of seeing in our mind’s eye or exercising our imagination.

For those of you who would follow the creative urges of your imagination here are three parts of your being that have to be engaged. They are your,

Head – The plausibility factor centering on facts/data

Heart – The emotional driver of imagination

Feet – The action component where the job gets done through others with vigorous and disciplined effort.

Recently an executive invited her team to an all-day off-site discussion on the group’s strategy. She used the question “Imagine a world where!” At that time her team laced focus and was demoralized and unmotivated.

As the group brainstormed and imagined possibilities, a vision for their future slowly began to emerge. The “imagine” question energized the group to see a new path ahead . They are now well on the way to the realization of their dream.

Here are some questions you may ask that will bring your imagination to life. They involve the activation of your head, heart, and feet.


What data (customer surveys, industry trends, scientific findings) inform your imagination?

What resources (people, technology) do you have/need to execute on your plan?

 Can you articulate this vision in a concise statement?


What inspirational need (contribution, excellence) does this imagined idea meet in you and your community?

What story do you tell that captures the imagination?

What gut feelings are generated by your imagination? (e.g. this is really important).


What do you have to do to make your imagined idea a reality?

What initial steps will you take to ensure some early wins?

Who are the stakeholders that can make this vision a reality?

So make sure that your imagination is grounded on data, appeals to people’s hearts, and generates action.

I recently asked a Board of Directors of a nonprofit organization where I serve as a member, “What could we create if we had all the money we needed and all the resources necessary for the task at hand?”

The result was an amazing flow of creative ideas that became what we named “The Field of Dreams”. The project incidentally is the development of a public park adjacent to our rural library that is involved in the revitalization of our community.

In the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in “Star Trek” “Make it so!”

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Your Authentic Voice

Your effectiveness as a leader depends on your voice.

Your voice is your uniqueness that makes you stand out from the crowd. Whether that voice is expressed in writing, public speaking, or influencing leadership decisions you will die on the vine or fade into oblivion without it.

A renowned photographer friend of mine tells of a time when she shared some of her best landscape photographs with mentor. After scanning the photos for a while the mentor said,

“These photographs are very beautiful. However, where are you, your unique voice in each of them?”

The characteristics of your voice are,


One of my favorite movie scenes is in the Mel Brooks movie “Blazing Saddles”. In one of the last scenes, as the sheriff rides out of town, he pontificates to the crowd

 I was just walking down the street when I heard a voice behind me say, “Reach for it, mister!” … Crowd: [in unison] BULLSHIT!

A voice is not a pose or mask intended to impress others. It comes from the center of our being. If we are angry we regulate but do not hide it. If we are ambivalent about a decision we honestly tell others that we do not know. People see through any façade we present in a heartbeat.

The key to having an effective voice is to have it as closely aligned to your personhood as possible. Mary Karr writes of the style of ones voice “The writer doesn’t choose these styles so much as he/she is born to them, based on who he/she is and how he/she has experienced the past”

Your voice is a display of your history and truth. It is also the presentation of

All of You

From the very moment you walk into a room, open your mouth, or the first line of your writing your voice comes through loud and clear.

What people need is to see all of you. Both the beautiful and beastly (within reason) side of you is needed to capture the attention and imagination of others. Demonstrating the good, bad, and ugly parts of yourself shows you to be human like the rest of the crowd.

Your voice, like your fingerprints, is one of a kind.

An authentic voice is when you speak from the heart—when you speak your truth to another’s truth. That voice is made up of many parts of you. It includes: your cultural background and perspective, what you value (e.g. honesty and humility), your unique personality style (e.g. a quirky sense of humor), and the ability to adapt a message that you know well to different audiences.


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Beyond Blah, Blah, Blah _ Towards A Satisfying Conversation

Why do some conversations leave us feeling empty and lonely? What happened?

We all long for meaningful dialogue, where:

No matter what the topic, we all experience an intellectually stimulating and emotionally satisfying dialogue in the context of mutual trust and respect.

Let’s take a look at conversational styles that satisfy everyone and those that leave us wishing we’d stayed at home with a good book!

Conversation Killers

Certain interactions smother reciprocal conversation; for example, people who:

Just want you to be their audience.

The rule “listen to me but I’m not really interested in you” is their idea of a conversation. It is almost as if they did not get enough “show and tell” time in childhood and are now trying to make up that deficit by talking “at” you. Although it’s interesting initially to hear people’s stories and get to know about them, a balance of talking and listening with genuine interest in each other is essential for a satisfying conversation and real friendship to develop.

Rely solely on small talk and other superficial interactions.

This can serve an important function; for example, to open a conversation or acknowledge each other in a public place such as waiting in line at the bank. However, when small talk becomes the only currency and it is mistaken for genuine connection, we can be left wanting. Once we scratch below the surface and go beyond the façade of friendliness and small talk, we may find little substance to the person or their ability to carry on a more authentic and satisfying interaction. We are reminded of people who only talk sports: “How about those Dodgers?” That may be good for an opener, but when the topic never changes, even after the listener has expressed their ignorance or lack of interest in sports, the speaker is not respecting the needs of the listener and the conversation fizzles.

Takes over the conversation

These folks speak at length as an authority on whatever topic comes up in conversation. They also continually dish up facts and never go below the surface of obvious emotions. This can be an important educational experience for the listener but when it morphs into the speaker asserting their authority on each new topic, and expecting the listener to be an admiring and appreciative audience, the only sound we hear is that of the desired authority.

Now contrast these ultimate conversation killers with

The Real Thing

Genuine conversation is characterized by

A dialogue where both parties contribute equally and listen intently.

No one person dominates the conversation. He/she patiently listens to the other without interrupting or restlessly wanting to inject their point of view.

A person with a generous spirit, open mind, and loving heart.

Such people often are those who have widely embraced different cultures where they see themselves as perpetual students and can celebrate differences and recognize similarities. They are continually searching for the good in others and ways to validate the other person’s point of view. They are able to put their own needs aside when they sense the other person needs a listening ear. In the end with such a conversation there is a climate of safety, mutual respect, and acceptance.

A good conversationalist is not just a “yes” person but he/she can freely offer contrary opinions without retreating into hostility or hardened personal or political opinions. At the core they have a teachable spirit and are willing to change their point of view as new facts emerge in the conversation.

What are some of the conversation killers and enhancers you have had in your experience?

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Affirming Your Destiny


Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

Esther a Jewish captive in ancient Persia found herself facing a dangerous opportunity. Her husband Ahasuerus, the hotheaded King received malicious advice to begin a program to exterminate the Jewish people. Esther’s uncle Mordecai pleaded with her that she intercede on behalf of her people stating “You are placed in this position for such a time as this”

Ester acted, persuaded Ahasuerus, saved her people, and fulfilled her destiny.

Not many of us operate our lives with such a strong sense of destiny. Imagine if we could emulate Esther. What an impact that would have on our lives and those of others.

Our first impulse is to think of folks with a “big” destiny like Esther, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi. But for those who have a“small” destiny like leading a project team, developing innovative software, or being a part of a group that is revitalizing a community, the possibility of having a destiny may seem far-fetched.

In case we minimize the importance of what we are doing may I remind you of some other words from Jewish history “Do not despise the day of small beginnings”. (Zechariah 4:10)

Small actions in the spirit of justice and service are not to be underrated. Remember that ripples become waves

Instead of saying “What’s wrong with this project?” or “This is not really a big deal”, would it not be better to say, “Imagine when this project succeeds? Or “In these ways lives will be transformed one person at a time”?

Don’t view the landscape as littered with problems. Instead engage in possibility thinking. If people declare you unrealistic you are in good company. Think of all the opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, the adoption of equality in marriage, and the movement to reintroduce ethics and character back into politics. Think of the Women’s March. (We walked with nearly 1 million people in Los Angeles) .

On the first week when Gay marriage became official in California I was asked to officiate at a wedding for the lesbian daughter of one of my friends. That wedding was one of the highlights of my life. When it came to the final declaration in the ceremony I said,

“I have been waiting for this day for years. By the authority vested in me by the State of California, I declare you wife and wife. You may now kiss each other”.

The audience stood up and broke into loud cheering and applause before I had even finished my pronouncement. It was a big moment for California where same sex marriage was finally official, for the couple who had been living together for years, and for someone from a church that would summarily have excommunicated him person for officiating on such an occasion.

Happy day!

Doing the right thing (by the standards of universal decency and justice) is the way to fulfill our destiny.

What do you need to do to fulfill yours?

Don’t underestimate the importance of your contribution and realize, “You have come for such a time as this”.

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Managing a High Maintenance Person

How are High Maintenance People (HMP’s) best managed?

 The acronym CEO is a way to describe their behavior. It denotes

 C = Controlling

E = Entitled

O = Ownership


HMP’s like to be in charge of their world (and ours). Their response comes from a deep sense of insecurity and a fragile self-esteem. It often translates into bullying/controlling behavior. Just try to push back, express your own opinion, or have your own voice with a HMP and you meet with instant hostility or judgment. Standing up to them is not a very pretty scene. You may even get a nasty tweet from them.


Think of the times you encountered road rage. You may have been traveling too slowly for the HMP and he (usually a male) drove close to the rear of you car, flashed his lights and honked his horn. It was his way of saying “The road belongs to me, get out of the way!” Often such entitlement comes with rank, wealth, gender, and class. These individuals believe they always deserve the best and in so doing demand it no matter the cost to others. I’ve seen these entitled types push their way to the front of a line and demand immediate service.


“What did his last slave die of” was the frustrated response of an employee to me about her HMP boss. He would make unrealistic demands on her time without respect for her other important projects. Being viewed as someone else’s property is at the heart of sexism, racism, and generally found in a possessive person.

Get the picture of the HMP? Not a pretty scene.

What are the best strategies for managing such people?

Run or fade away

There comes a time when we say to ourselves about HMP’s “life is too short for this crap. I’m out of here.” But this is sometimes easier said than done especially if you have a lot of time invested in that person on your job or in your personal relationship. Remember that playing the martyr is the heart of codependence. You will never change their behavior. But you can change yours.

Get off my back 

Such a frontal approach works better with some HMP’s than others. This is especially true in confronting people who use the direct approach themselves. Interventions, as used in confronting those who are causing misery through the abuse of substances, are at times effective especially if the HMP stands to lose a lot. However, choose this tactic carefully by deciding what battles you actually want to fight and what consequences you want to enforce.

Pause between stimulus and your response

Not jumping into the swamp with the alligators is a prudent tactic. How often have we told ourselves “I wish I had counted to five before I responded (or not responded) to the HMP”? A way to do this is to try and find something right about what they are saying like “This is a very urgent matter for you. What project do you want me to put on the back burner while I take care of this matter? The latter can often diffuse a volatile situation.

Transform the suffering into compassion

This is the most mature and evolved response. The ancient Tibetan Buddhism practice of tonglen trains us to transform the suffering that comes from living with HMP’s into compassion using one’s breath. As one breathes in slowly one allows oneself to experience the full force of the pain of being controlled and owned by an entitled individual. You accept it as is, without judgment. In breathing out one expresses the wish that HMP’s will be released from their burden and experience freedom and joy. This exercise is best done in private for your benefit to restructure your emotions.

HMP’s are found in every sector of life. Learning to manage them effectively helps us keep our sanity and not reinforce their bullying behavior.

What did you do with your HMP?

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Reboot Your Thinking Now. Here’s How

One time I was having difficulty sleeping and a friend gave me a pill that she described as a powerful sleep aid. That night I slept like a baby. The next day I was informed that I had ingested a vitamin C tablet. My internal script about that pill put me to sleep.

Some of our internal guiding narratives are deeply ingrained and shaped by our early experiences. Take the whole experience of inferiority. People who feel “less than” engage in a chronic comparison between themselves with others. Either they grew up “on the wrong side of the tracks” or they were told they were intellectually inferior to a siblingThe result is they allowed this internal script to limit their sense of their possibilities. The question “Am I good enough?” haunts them for the rest of their lives.

How do we change misery-generating scripts? We begin by

Recognizing that we are the authors of our own story.

Yes, that’s right, we wrote that defeatist script (often dictated by others). By the same token we can change the narrative.

I love what Ros and Ben Zander write in “The Art of Possibility” about invented stories.

It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework of meaning that advances our quality of life and that of those around us

Question. What story can you tell yourself that will enhance your life and that of others? (You may as well make up one that works for you and others)

So how then do we edit that misery-producing story?

In what way can we reprogram ourselves? We can begin by

Thinking our way into a new way of acting 

Inventing a new story involves asking questions like,

“What do I have to do to stay in the moment?”

“How can I make a contribution today?”

“Where can I find an opportunity in this difficulty?”

“What do I have to do to give an inspiring speech?”

Powerful questions such as these set off a positive chain reaction within us that undermines a negative mental disposition. Our thinking can literally be reshaped.

Have you ever watched schampion gymnast mentally rehearsing an upcoming routine? Are they remembering a time when they failed miserably at the maneuver? On the contrary, they are running through the script of a perfect performance. Like the athlete we can reshape ourselves into possibility thinkers.

Question: What empowering question can you ask yourself today?

Now let’s look at the editing process from the additional perspective of,

Acting our way into a new way of thinking

As a psychologist I used to treat depressed people. One successful practice for some persons with this challenge was to suggest a physical activity that they once enjoyed. That activity may have been jogging. The first time out I would walk with them around the block and then steadily progressed to more extensive exercise. The body behaved in healthy ways and slowly the mind followed suit.

When I was going through a very difficult time in my life about two decades ago I decided to go to a dance class. I found it very difficult to be down mentally and dance at the same time.

Question. What life affirming behavior can you engage in to reverse your negative mental script?

The symbol of the Phoenix rising from the ashes is a metaphor of a power within us that facilitates the realization of new possibilities.

Imagine a world where you realized new possibilities for yourself.

What would that world look like?  

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The Tale of Two People

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom

Thus begins Charles Dickens in his historical novel “The Tale of Two Cities”. And so begins the saga of our lives lived in the two selves, the ego and the true self (soul).

The worst of things is when we live a life driven by the illusion and compulsion of the ego or false self. My journey away from the ego is

I am recovering from who I think I am. And I am becoming less concerned with what others think of me.

The other, better self/soul, is our permanent essence that we get partial glimpses of through our lives.

My false self (ego) is made up of stories I tell myself with the theme “I am my accomplishments”, “I am my possessions” “I am my white male privilege” “I am my status/position”, “I am upper middle class”, “I am world traveled” . In these ways I miss who I really am.

All this ego stuff is an impediment to growth and a barrier to authentic living. The ego locks me into a pose or gives me a mask to wear that divides me from others.

Egoic thoughts (beliefs, ideas, and images we have of ourselves) pull us into an addiction to pain and suffering when we

Strive to “keep up with the Jones”. This materialism sustains our preoccupation with things.

 Grant significance to things that appear to cause our negative feelings.

 Have a narrow perspective where we are imprisoned by our anger, depression, and deep feelings of shame.

Bow and scrape and conform to the wishes of others.

The ubiquitous me’s appear in many forms.

 A Cause for Reflection

Some time ago I met with a friend from another country. He is a highly talented, sensitive, and extremely intelligent person with an encyclopedic memory. Despite his giftedness he is trapped in the cruel web of alcoholism. This disease has reduced him to a mere shadow of himself.

At first he was a heavy drinker who used alcohol to medicate himself from his pain, the deep rejection and abuse from his family of origin. After some time the alcohol took him and reduced him to a state I experienced over a meal one night. Before we got together he had polished off a bottle of wine. As a result, during dinner he was agitated and at times highly belligerent. He is an angry drunk. As the conversation progressed he broached a highly charged political topic and began to challenge what he thought was my position. Never shy to engage in vigorous debate I responded as a devil’s advocate stating the opposite position.

My response set off a firestorm on his part. For the next hour he berated me, made all manner of false accusations about my character and person, threatened to kill my family and burn my house down, and all but engaged me in a physical fight.

At this point I reverted to my “two me” perspective. I realized that it was the alcohol speaking to me and not his true self. That alcohol engaged his wounded self and indignant ego (How dare you disagree with me). I attempted to put myself in a meditative and prayerful posture. Quietly I observed what was going on in him. I worked on being accepting rather than a rejecting. And finally I kept looking for his true self, the soul.

I must point out that I left dinner that evening with an unresolved situation. However, the next morning he woke up anxious and filled with regrets. We assured him that we were not abandoning our friendship. Still to date he has not “hit bottom” as they say in AA, and the alcohol induced explosive incidents continue.

This incident with my friend highlighs the fact that in all of us are two selves.

The antidote to a life of the ego, which is activated by just about any circumstance where we perceive threat, is one that sees and lives life through the eyes of the soul (our Being, our true self). Over the years I have written extensively about this topic e.g. “Moving Towards a Soul-Based Life”

I write not from the perspective of an expert in this quest but rather as a seeker. So much of the personal pain and the grief I have brought to others is based on my seeking to satisfy my ego. For instance, I can become very judgmental towards those who believe that their form of spirituality is the “only” way. Instead of feeling my rejection they need to feel accepted. Overall, I have to learn that the soul does not have to be right all the time. It humbly learns.

I find myself getting closer to soul-based living when I live in the now (See Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”), turn off my chattering mind filled with fabrications about the true me, and realize that I am one with others, nature, and the Cosmos (I see myself in others and others in me).

I also have a better chance of living from the soul when I get in touch with my observing self (as sometimes happens in meditation and dreams) that does not judge, criticize, and affirms me with looks of kindness and compassion.

I name the observer the Source.

Part of my journey connecting with the true self was the slow realization that I am one with others. The inclusiveness of human experience involves the rejection of self-centeredness, white male entitlement, patriarchy, a culture-centric view of the world, and the arrogant view that the one expression of “my” spirituality is the only way.

The dualistic view that I am a separate and special entity is at the heart of all human-to-human conflict, the alienation and exploitation of nature, and our arrogant sense of our personal and ethnic superiority.

Such a belief is at complete odds with a life of the soul that  speaks to our being that is inextricably bound together with all of humankind.

We are all one. The similarities of our spiritual/human aspirations and experience far exceed the differences that divide us.

Some call this a “spiritual awakening”. The author Adyashanti encourages us to

Let go of indulging in the mind, realize that it doesn’t have the answers for you, and it doesn’t have the answers for us collectively”.

We are healthy as people to the degree that we are awake to living from the true self.

And living from the soul makes all the difference in the corporate world where ego reigns and lulls us into a dream world. Anthony De Mello writes in his book Awareness

The chances that you will wake up are in direct proportion to the amount of truth you can take without running away


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Self-Awareness – A Confession

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others – Daniel Goleman

 In some ways I have been very unaware of my inner emotional world all my life. Most of us go through our lives fast asleep. We do not want to wake up. We perceive the waking state as too painful. Anthony De Mello writes in his book Awareness

“The chances that you will wake up are in direct proportion to the amount of truth you can take without running away”

My heart (emotions) was never really fully engaged with life. Maybe that was because I had learned from my earliest years to detach from my emotions so as not to feel the pain of abuse from my grandparents (I lived with them for a year while my parents were out of the country while my father was being treated for tuberculosis).

Another explanation for my relatively flat affect was that I was conditioned to “stuff” my feelings as any good male from an English heritage was supposed to do (except for anger). I believe the phrase for the latter is “stiff upper lip”.

After I became a psychologist, entered psychotherapy, went through very painful experiences like divorce, disease (my son’s schizophrenia) and the death of my parents, my feeling world started to awaken and become more intelligible to me.

I  have also spent countless hours reflecting on the question

“What does it mean to be self-aware”?

Here are some of the ways.

Being responsive, not reactive.

 I have my hot button issues. People who trouble or perplex me typically activate these pain points in my psyche. In reaction to such persons I have strong negative emotional reactions like anger, dislike, judgment, and avoidance.

More often than not, these persons are simulating an old conflict with ghosts from my past. I react automatically and unconsciously to them “as if” they were embodied in the person irritating me in the present.

The key to managing these disabling feelings is to know what is going on by identifying the hurt part of me that they activate. I also curb my reactivity by hitting the hold button, by viewing these people as my spiritual teachers and going deeper in order to see each one’s inner essence.

Feed the true self, starve the ego

When I speak of self-awareness I must ask a deeper question like “What is that self”?

Here lies a problem since we are all made up of two entirely different selves.

 There is the ego self, which is based on the story the mind constructs about us. That is mixed with the preoccupation we have with the opinion of others. The contents of this mind include ego baggage like “separate and distinct from others, entitled and privileged, it’s your performance stupid, and what’s in it for me?”

Another answer to “What is the self?” and for which one has to dig a lot deeper relates to the soul or true self. Living at the level of this self seeks answers to “Where do we have common ground?” and “How can I be of service to you?”

I begin to awaken to my true self when I am aware of the deceptive strategies of the ego. It does not surrender willingly and assures me (false news at its worst) that I need it to be successful in life. My best chance at getting beyond the ego is to learn how to step back from my busy thought life through mindful meditation. And into that gap steps the observing self which is more likely to be objective about me and in so doing reflect my true self.

In the end it is how the self behaves that determines whether it is our true or false self. Having said that, there is a distinction to be made between two almost opposite types of behavior that come from very different places in our minds and hearts and have very different consequences on our lives:

One enriches our life while the other limits it

One divides us from others the other unites


“The unaware life is not worth living”


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The Slob Who Wanted to Please – A Case of Self-Regulation

Joe was a self-described slob who wanted to please. Everything around him was chaos — his house, his thoughts, and his relationships. However, this tendency to create a muddle out of everything perplexed him greatly since what he desired most was to please the same people that he constantly irritated with his inability to organize himself or his life.

Joe can be viewed as a classic illustration of the divided self.

All of us have competing personality and behavioral tendencies that produce varying degrees of internal and/or external conflict. Let’s consider some familiar examples:

  • Perfectionists who procrastinate on tasks they so want to complete for fear that nothing they do is ever good enough.
  • Highly empathic people who want to take care of themselves and others but, instead, they over-care for others and neglect themselves.
  • Oppositional personalities who repel those they want most to connect with and, consequently suffer when others avoid them.

All these people experience conflict between their aspirations and their actual behaviors. These examples may ring true because, to some degree or another, we all have conflicting aspects of ourselves that play out in similar ways.

How then can we live without the different aspects of ourselves bumping into each other and creating suffering? How can the slob start to clean up his act?

The answer can be found in Self-Regulation.

Making changes involves three consciously choreographed steps, which can be captured by three simple words: stop, think, act.


We all need a good set of brakes. Stopping before we act is an essential aspect of self-regulation, which Daniel Goleman, among others, has argued is a key component of emotional intelligence and effective leadership.

To hit the brakes:

o Learn what situations, people, or comments tend to trigger noxious and/or unproductive behaviors.

o Learn to flag these triggers and stop before you act.

o While tabling your emotions, give yourself a breather to think of a more productive, less reactive response.

o Remember that the price is too high for not controlling one’s emotions.


Our unproductive emotional responses are more often than not based on faulty thinking. As Shakespeare once wrote, “The fault… is not in the stars, but in ourselves.” Learning not to always believe one’s thoughts or to be a prisoner of one’s perceptions is important. To do this:

o Challenge your beliefs. Ask yourself, “Does this situation really warrant such an intense response? What is causing my negative emotion? For example, is it simply a sour look on the boss’ face or is it my interpretation that her sour look is directed toward me?

o Put your negative response on hold until you have more evidence. Is the boss’ sour look triggering a past unresolved conflict with someone else or is it really something between the two of you?

o Do not judge yourself for aspects of your personality that are unacceptable to you. The word “slob” is a harsh self-judgment. Many of us are inclined to be tough on ourselves and then on others. Backing off judgmental responses and learning self-compassion is key to thinking about ourselves in new, more highly functional ways.


The final step is to consciously change our behavior from emotionally reactive to rationally deliberative. To do this we act our way into a new way of thinking (incidentally this is a more powerful agent of change than thinking our way into a new way of behaving).

o Emulate best practices of those who have overcome similar tendencies; for example, the employee who adopts the practice of refraining from blurting out, “What’s wrong?” to his boss and, instead, asks others for the causes of the boss’ perceived foul mood while taking direction from the boss and completing his assignment.

o Practice the behavior until it becomes habitual. In this way, we “act” our way into a new way of thinking that is automatic and consistent.

At the end of the day, there is hope for the person with conflicting personality tendencies if he or she raises self-awareness and applies self-regulation. When people try to change, others often notice and give credit for their efforts. Small behavioral and attitudinal changes really stand out. While old habits may die hard, die they do with repeated practice and good outcomes.

Co-author: Kristine MacKain, Ph.D

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