Change Yourself? Change Your People.

Whether it be for the environment, one’s health, or other important causes, convincing people to adopt new or uncommon behaviors can be difficult. One reason is that societal norms powerfully reinforce the status quo….What leads people to overturn a status quo?”*

Other people are, of course, a big part of what leads us to overturn a status quo. But the researchers found an interesting twist. So, for example, it was not only being told that some other people are trying to eat less meat these days that influenced participants to eat less meat themselves. Participants ate even less meat themselves if they were told that it’s because other people are changing that they are eating less meat.

That people are changing makes it sound like eating less meat could morph naturally into a norm and, if you don’t fit in with that, then where will you be. Left out, left behind or “counternormative”* as the reference suggests.

Okay, so we like to think we are special. Introverts** I know are great examples of people who may be more comfortable on the edges but don’t exactly want to feel left out. None of us wants to feel so far out that we don’t matter to anyone anymore. Back in the day, many thousands of years ago when our social brains were formed, in what we call the environment of evolutionary adaptation, too far out socially meant no food, no care…we died.

This is why we may feel bad when we don’t get invited to that party or meeting that we didn’t even want to go to. Hardwiring. Alarm goes off when we begin to feel socially left out. Wait. We can use this!

All we have to do is surround ourselves with enough people who live and breathe the ‘me’ we want to be that it feels normal enough to be whatever that is. Affinity grouping. Back to the meat, why not surround oneself with people who for environmental, health, or other reasons also want to eat less meat. Unless you happen to want to eat meat. Then that sense of normalcy and belonging would be provided by eating with some people who also eat meat.

Or the gym. Or spending habits. Or environmental foot-printing. Want to – on purpose – overturn your own status quo. Embed with others who already have. People are everywhere. Meetups. Community or professional organizations… Go where the norm is, or is becoming, the norm you want to be. Opportunities abound. Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* “Change behaviors by changing perception of normal” October 6, 2017 Citing Gregg Sparkman et al. “Dynamic Norms Promote Sustainable Behavior, Even if It Is Counternormative,” Psychological Science (2017). DOI: 10.1177/0956797617719950  Provided by Stanford University.

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.




70% Mind Wandering: Who’s in Charge?

“Researchers in the United States have investigated mind wandering….the volunteers reported mind wandering 70% of the time.”*

Scientists may refer to it as ‘stimulus independent’ or ‘default network’ thinking. Mindfulness tutors may liken the wandering mind to a bunch of drunken monkeys, or a 2-year-old who is winning and wreaking havoc all over the house. Whatever we call it, we do it a lot. In this study of simulated driving* the mind wandered a whopping 70% of the time, a lot of the time without people even realizing it. It’s like dreaming our lives away; daydreaming, as it is sometimes called.

So who’s in charge here? Shouldn’t it be us? It’s not like the mind is bad. Just needs some discipline. After all, mind wandering can be a very nice break from the stresses of the day, and can make good space for planning and creativity that more intense focus on a task cannot. In this way, some amount of daydreaming can make us more, not less, productive than we might otherwise be.

Too often, though, the mind wanders off on a fool’s errand to resolve the unresolved (unresolvable?) whatever it is…in our past, present, future. When this happens then we are worrying and wasting our time. Shoulda Woulda Coulda’s in the past. What If’s in the future. What Now’s in the present. Brain drainers. So what can we do? A few things

Is There Something To Be Done Here? When regrets about the past, worries about the future, or complaints about the present intrude, it can be useful to ask this question about the thing we are thinking: Is there something to be one here? Sometimes the answer is Yes but not by you, or not right now. Then you can make a plan to delegate whatever is needed or do it later yourself. Sometimes the answer is Yes by you right now, as in, car coming get out of the way! And sometimes the answer is a flat No, either because you or someone else has already done it, or there really was nothing to be done – so we can just let it go.  My clients have used this one well;** particularly useful for What Now complaints about a job s/he knows to be the right job for right now but maybe not forever. Is there something to be done here? Yeah, focus on the task that is before us. Do good work now, and see how much happier that can make us. And make a date with self, for a later time, to honor any discontent and plan the where to from here, if we still want one.

Make it Happen. If it’s hard to let things go even if we know there is nothing to be done, let’s say it is the right job just not as perfect as we’d hoped, then we can set aside a certain amount of time at a regular time each day dedicated to regret, worry, or complaint. What we resist persists, so some recommend letting the mind have its way like this for a period of time each day, to help ease it away (‘til it comes back anyway).

Pleasant Dreams. What if it’s not even regrets, complaints, or worries? What if it’s pleasant thoughts that take the mind away from what you are doing or supposed to be doing in the present moment. You know what to do. Same Same. Go back to #1 or #2 or something else you might devise. Distractions are distractions no matter how pleasant. There is a time and a place for everything. And there is a whole lot of productivity and real happiness in our focus on the task before us when it is the right time for that.

Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Mind wandering is common during driving. August 31, 2017 in Medicine & Health / Psychology & Psychiatry.

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



What’s So Great About Giving?

The researchers found that brain activity associated with happiness, along with self-reported happiness, increased simply after making a commitment to be generous to others. Happiness and happiness-related brain activity also went up when actually giving, the research team found, and left givers in a happier overall state than those who acted selfishly. Interestingly, relatively small acts of giving gave rise to just as big a happiness bump as bigger acts, the investigators said.*

Have you ever noticed how incredible it can feel to give? I have…years ago when I was drilling nails to build a child’s bedroom with Habitat for Humanity, a bedroom that kid might not have otherwise had. Not sure whether these Swiss researchers looked into how long the happiness bump lasts, but I can tell you mine has been around for decades. Every time I think of it I get that rush.

So they are right about just the thought of it. It will be a few weeks before my hospice volunteer work actually begins and, here again, just the thought of giving to another that way makes me feel good all over.

The ‘feel good all over’ that goes off in the brain when we give encourages us to do more of it, just like eating and, well you know, feel good to encourage us to do more of that too. Back in the day reputation mattered. Still does. It is speculated that givers appeared more trustworthy than takers, resulting in greater control over resources (or at least access to food and safety) with which to survive and to thrive. Doing well by doing good is what we would call it today.

We all want to be seen as good, and we feel happy when we are. In my Organizational Politics workshop, virtually every participant peeled down on our 5 Why’s exercise to being fundamentally driven by a deep desire to be seen as a good person. Makes us feel good.

Yeh but…what if the giving is obviously to get. What if, let’s say, a husband is stingy with his wife where no one can see, but an uber generous big tipper, big donator out in the world where everyone can. Or what if a woman sits on a variety of non profit boards, but is rarely home for her children, and rude to her employees. More about ‘looking good’ than being and doing good we might say.

Maybe you know people like this. And maybe you don’t like them, so not sure about the happiness bump for them. In fact, one such person** told me that, despite his most generous public persona, deep down he felt like a “wretched soul.” So the self cannot be fooled for long. Even if everyone else can, no real happiness for him.

Another woman I know** said she believes people only feel like giving when they are already happy, as in cup runneth over, so why not. To this I added my own yeh but…telling her what she said makes sense too but, if the research is right on what’s so great about giving, isn’t when we are feeling down a really great time to give. Look at all the happiness we can kick into motion for ourselves and others to help make the world we live in a better place.

She thanked me for this, which brings us to gratitude. There is plenty of research linking gratitude and happiness. And what is gratitude, after all, if not a form of giving itself. Giving thanks, that is. But don’t take their word for it, nor mine. Test it out yourself and let me know what you find.

So, for example, instead of spending on yourself, spend on someone else instead to see how that feels. Just a test. And remember, it doesn’t even have to be big. Something as small as offering a smile, or holding a door…could tell you all you need to know. Or something else you might like to try. Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Givers Really Are Happier Than Takers. MedLIne. Tuesday, August 15, 2017.

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.







Human Hate Continued: Knit Ourselves Together or Tear Ourselves Apart?

”Only through solidarity and cooperation within one’s own group was it possible to raise children and survive when competing against unknown and rivaling groups for scarce resources in pre-civilized times…”*

There it is, folks. This could be what we are up against when we wonder why, why, why, after all this time, in this day and age, inter-group hatred still rears its ugly head. Some would say, like it or not, we are hardwired to huddle with our own against the ones we think are not us. Us versus Them. That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news. Two things:

  • The human brain (aka the “social brain”) got bigger and smarter over time due to living in – and allowing us to live in – larger and larger communities. The social brain is now considered flexible and therefore shaped, not just by our genes, but by the environment in which it lives as well.
  • New research suggests that xenophobia, (or fear/disgust of people who are different), can be reduced and altruism increased by oxytocin and social pressure.

So it’s not hopeless. And we are not helpless. We can change. And it appears that oxytocin + social pressure can help us to do just that. Social interaction increases Oxytocin, which then brings pleasure and trust to that interaction. Cause and Effect. So let’s just hang out – with more and more people different from the ones our primitive brain picks out for us. And let’s be sure to do it out and about to create the social pressure that interaction with people who do not look exactly like us is how it is and how it is going to be more and more over time. Period.

But I am talking to and about adults here. Because infants don’t need to be told that we are all one. As per Obama’s tweet of Mandela’s quote: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Maybe love is not even more natural than hate. But it is natural enough, and every single one of us can do something to help knit us together, one stitch at a time.

As only one example, one client,** a black man, told me he fought back the urge to pick someone who looked more like him to work with, and picked me instead because I am white. We have worked boldly on racial identity issues together, in ways he tells me would have been less possible and less fruitful for him had we both been black. Each and every one of us can catch it and counter it, just as he did, to choose someone different instead of too often someone who is same, for the sake of same and same alone. If this is your tendency…try something different. Try someone different. You might like it. And the world will thank you for it. Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Universität Bonn. “Oxytocin and social norms reduce xenophobia.” ScienceDaily, 14 August 2017,>.

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.




Human Hate: Why We Do and What To Do About It

Similar to the “hate-watching” experience of viewing television programmes you don’t like because you enjoy mocking them, this can be seen as a mild form of “hate-reading.” Logging onto Facebook gives you the chance to be indignantly offended (or maybe just mildly piqued) by other people’s ill-informed views and idiosyncratic behaviour. And there’s a surprising amount of pleasure in that.*

Disappointing isn’t it. Not like we didn’t know. Still it’s unsettling to think about how much pleasure humans can take in feeling better than everyone else. Why all the hate? Here are two broad ideas on that:

  • Social Dominance: In animals, including humans, social dominance gives greater access to and control of life sustaining resources for the individual and kin group. Makes sense that we would be wired to take pleasure in the idea that we rank higher somehow, for how it has helped us to survive and to thrive as a species.
  • Social Bonding: Strength in numbers, i.e., individuals bonded together in a group had a better chance of overcoming natural and social threats than individuals who stood alone. Makes sense we would be wired for that to feel good too.

Short of it is that humans appear to be both competitive and cooperative and even cooperation can morph into hate. As the study suggests, people go to Facebook to bond – over 2 billion of them monthly* – but bonding is not all that’s going on there. Just as in the offline world of people, there is shunning, sneering, you name it… And some of it is pretty hateful in that ‘I’m better than you’ or ‘We’re better than you’ kind of way. My children, my social life, my vacations, my political party, my ethnic group, my gender group, my sexual preference group – better than yours. In its extreme, witness the violent protests in our streets. We are together – and better than you.

Here’s an individual example.** Let’s call him David. David, a successful attorney, has been widowed for years. Nice man. Attractive man. Pretty good catch for some good woman looking for love, as he is himself. When asked why this hasn’t happened for him, he said that he meets seemingly lovely women online, but when he tells the woman whom he voted for that’s the end of that. One woman’s family threatened to disown her if she brought him anywhere near them. How hateful is that.

Spiritual teachers tell us that these boundaries we create between ourselves and others are foolish and destructive falsehoods. From Ken Wilbur’s No Boundary: A Union of Opposites:

The war of opposites is a symptom of a boundary taken to be real, and to cure the symptoms we must go to the root of the matter itself: our illusory boundaries….When the opposites are realized to be one, discord melts into concord, battles become dances, and old enemies become lovers. We are then in a position to make friends with all of our universe, and not just one half of it.

Differences as dances. I do love that. And, if “life is what our thoughts make it” (Marcus Aurelius), why can’t we think of the world as, for the most part, a world full of many different kinds of friends with as much right to exist as we do ourselves. The more we hate, no matter how justified we feel in it, the more hate there is in the world, and the more polarized and extreme the hateful behavior becomes.

So the next time we find ourselves feeling “I’m better than you,” how about those 3 breaths, belly out on the in-breath, belly in on the out-breath…with a reminder “there goes human hate,” served us once, can hurt us now, letting it come and letting it go like a cloud in the sky, returning to love wherever, however, and as much as we can. Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* The real reason you can’t quit Facebook? Maybe it’s because you can judge your friends.July 13, 2017 by Philip Seargeant And Caroline Tagg, The Conversation

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.






The Exerciser: Think Exercise Think

How being hunter-gatherers boosted human brainpower and taught us to love exercise….New research suggests that the link between exercise and the brain is a product of our evolutionary history and our past as hunter-gatherers, and the same parts of the brain that are taxed during complex tasks such as foraging also benefit from exercise.*

It’s called the Adaptive Capacity Model to mean that when we were hunter-gatherers, 2 million years ago, we were multitasking all the time. We used our memories to make decisions about where to go for food and how to get back home, at the same time we had to manage our bodies over challenging terrain.

If this physical/mental complexity of foraging fortified the brain then, as with any other organ – Use it or Lose it. No surprise researchers are now thinking of the aging brain’s cognitive decline as a loss in capacity (neurons and their connections) associated with diminished use.

But even more interesting than this inextricable mind/body connection is how the mind can actually think the body into the exercise that is so good for the body and mind.

Life is what our thoughts make it (Marcus Aurelius). And although it appears the brain can sometimes impact the body without moving a thing, it is good to work the body to keep the “thinking thing” (Descartes) strong enough to do all of its magic for us.

In other words, Get Moving, any way you like. I take dripping wet Latin dancing fitness classes at the gym. What gets me there, more than telling myself how good it is for me, is that my dear departed parents were Latin dancing trophy winners. It’s in the blood. Brings me, and in the way them, alive.

Another woman I know** got going, not as much by telling herself how good it was for her, as by reconnecting with how much she loved and missed the fiercely competitive soccer player she once was. If there is anything to the studies above, she and I both might:

  • Visualize ourselves at it and into it, when we can’t or don’t feel like exercising.
  • Tell our minds that we are exercising, when we are.
  • Think of ourselves as Exercisers as part of who we are.
  • Remember that being able to exercise at all means in no small way that life is good.

And for those who are not yet The Exerciser our brains and bodies need us to be, you too can take a mental magic carpet ride back to a time and place when physical was fun. Then you can graft that delicious memory onto whatever form of exercise best helps you to be The Exerciser researchers believe we were all meant to be. Practice, practice, practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Borkhataria, C. “How being hunter-gatherers boosted human brainpower and taught us to love exercise.” DailyMail, June 30, 2017

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.






What is Resilience? Hero Making. Here’s how.

In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice….It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions.  Viktor E. Frankl*

Resilience is bending but not breaking under stress, or:

…the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences. American Psychological Association

My family had a mantra, “It’s not Cancer,” which we used to put things in perspective to cope with whatever it was. Except sometimes it was cancer and sometimes it was worse; for example, the sudden death by stroke of my dad when I was 15 years old.

That was pretty bad but, typically, we humans do go on. The famous study on the relative happiness of lottery winners v paraplegic accident victims is pretty good evidence of that. Victims were found to experience even more pleasure in mundane daily life activities than the lottery winners, rather than the other way around.

The SEEDS of resilience include: Social networks, Exercise, Education, Diet, and Sleep. Surely we know by now (whether we do it is another matter) that taking good care of ourselves under life changing stress is a good way to help us bounce back.

But some people do more than bounce back. Some overcome their adversity to leap tall buildings in remarkable ways. JK Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela…come to mind. And, of course, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl who, after losing his entire family in the Holocaust, gave us lessons for spiritual survival that I reflect on and share with my clients practically everyday.

One woman I know,** we’ll call her Melissa, was involved in a difficult situation with a man she dearly loved. Melissa had struggled for years to accept and understand the situation from his perspective, even though she felt throughout that the situation as it was being conducted was inconsistent with her own deeply held values. What we resist persists with all its might. So, in one session this woman, who was typically kind of snarky when in pain and rarely wept, surprised herself when she finally began to cry.

When asked what her tears were trying to say, she realized who she was and what sacrifice she would need to make to be true to herself and everything she stood for down to her toes. That is, she knew in that moment that, despite her true love, she would have to give up all of her hopes and dreams about a life with this man.

In that moment, Melissa became her own hero – Joan of Arc. She did not burn at the stake, but her suffering did, as she took a stand for her values and women everywhere who may suffer corruption in similar ways. This is the meaningful sacrifice that Frankl said makes suffering not be suffering anymore.

Melissa now has fewer and fewer waves of sadness. Attachment is physiological as much as it is anything. So in the early stages of love lost we may even feel sick, until we heal and get well. She is tending to the SEEDS of resilience noted above; social supports, plenty of rest, and so on. But what has helped to up level her mood and her life more than anything else is the meaning she grafted onto this life changing adversity in love, which she would no longer deny nor avoid.

The miracle for Melissa was in the meaning – meaning that could not be given to her, nor imposed on her – but rather meaning that had to spring from deep within her, from the depths of her soul about the woman she was.

So here is another favorite Frankl quote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Practice, Practice, Practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Viktor E. Frankl. Man’s Search For Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. Washington Square Press (1959).

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



The Truth about Lying


“Lying, it turns out, is something that most of us are very adept at. We lie with ease, in ways big and small, to strangers, co-workers, friends, and loved ones….Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human.”*

Good grief. My daddy always said, “Honesty is the best policy.” I believed him, have lived my life accordingly, and been proud of it. Now we hear that everybody’s doin’ it, even those of us who say we’re not. One study found that  92%  of people who said they didn’t lie admitted they had when asked if they had lied in the past week.

I’m sorry, to the best of my knowledge, I still don’t think I do. I did swear to god about something important once and later on changed my mind. But I meant what I said when I said it, so I don’t think it counts as a lie. Open to the idea that I am lying to myself  about lying somehow, I took a test to determine what kind of liar I am, only in none of the sample situations would I have ever resorted to lying in the first place, not at all necessary, other skills to use, if we can even consider lying a skill.

Researchers actually do. They consider it part of emotional and intellectual development when a child learns how to lie:

From about age 4 on, children lie for many of the same reasons adults do: to avoid punishment, to gain an advantage, to protect against an unwanted consequence, and even to boost self-esteem….to demonstrate power, to maintain privacy, or to protect a friend…. recent research has shown that lying plays a positive role in normal development. Essential human skills — independence, perspective taking, and emotional control — are the same skills that enable children to lie.

Most kids eventually learn that others may stop giving them what they want, or want to be with them at all, if they tell so many lies that lying goes from something they do to something they are: Liar. So they develop other kinds of skills, conflict resolution and negotiation skills, let’s say, before even knowing that’s what they are. And then there are those who just get better and better at lying.

Look, would I lie to save the life of someone I loved. You bet I would. And my heart goes out to people I know** in situations begging for some tampering with the truth, e.g., parents waiting for the right time in a child’s life to tell the child the truth that they are going to part. Our need for truth and trust is just as human as the human ability to lie. Unfortunately, the more we lie, the easier it gets for the brain (amygdala), then the more we lie and there goes any trust that might have been possible had we found another way.

So, if you find yourself with someone whose primary life strategy is lying, since all that lying can drive us crazy, if it is possible for you to do so, rather than lose your sanity, you can run for the hills. And, if and when you may feel tempted to lie a little yourself, take a deep breathe and ask yourself if, in that circumstance and with that person, lying really is your best and only shot. This you can Practice, Practice, Practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* “Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, National Geographic, June, 2017

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


Expletives for Pain. What fun.

“Swearing has been shown to relieve physical pain when it comes to banging your toe or slamming a finger in a door. Now, a new psychology study shows we shouldn’t be coy about cursing when suffering from an aching heart or hurt feelings.”*

Expletives for pain. Well, maybe this is why they let us say whatever we want when we’re in labor. It’s been over 30 years and I can still see the ‘it’s okay honey’ look on the faces of the nurses who just didn’t seem to get that, unusual as it would be, this particular baby was definitely going to come out of the wrong part of a woman’s body. Based on how it felt, I was sure of it, but they didn’t get it, which affected my language. I would have said that I invented a whole new natural childbirth language but something tells me that others before me had spoken the very same words. They’d heard it before, were completely unfazed by it, and knew before the science even told them so that foul language can help with pain. But how?

researchers speculate that brain circuitry linked to emotion is involved. Earlier studies have shown that unlike normal language, which relies on the outer few millimeters in the left hemisphere of the brain, expletives hinge on evolutionarily ancient structures buried deep inside the right half. One such structure is the amygdala, an almond-shaped group of neurons that can trigger a fight-or-flight response in which our heart rate climbs and we become less sensitive to pain.”

So the cursing may trigger a physiological response that lessens our pain, but not just our physical pain. A previous blog post, “Got REJECTION. Take TYLENOL,” addressed the neural circuitry connection between physical and emotional pain, such that what affects the one could similarly affect the other. This is known as “Pain Overlap Theory”* Hence, Tylenol for social/emotional pain; for example, rejection. In this post, we are not talking about something we take by mouth, Tylenol; but rather something that comes out of the mouth, profanity, as a treatment for pain.

I know, your mother told you not to. So did mine, but now it seems there really is a time and a place for just about everything, including cursing for pain. Now we learn that, while cursing is likely not the treatment of choice for deep grief, and that while unbridled cursing like road rage can cause serious harm – cursing can be good for when you stub your toe, break your arm, have a baby, wreck your car, or when you find out you got left out of the party or meeting that you wanted to attend. All of that stuff hurts, and studies now suggest that foul language can help.

Not all the time though. Has to be used sparingly or, like anything else, too much of a good thing. We humans habituate, we get used to things, which then lose their impact. So just for special occasions, okay. Pick and choose – what, where, when and with whom to curse – and then just let it rip. Have to say I wonder if this applies to taboos of verbal meanness that may not even include profanity per se. This would be a separate study but seems to me there could be a similar effect (heart rate up, pain down) when we dare to speak the unspeakable to the jerk who hurt our feelings, dirty words or not. I’m experimenting with this myself and, here again, all in good measure, so one does not habituate into a mean person to the detriment of all, including oneself. Reminds me of this Ghandi quote:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

Also reminds me of Mark Manson’s, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, in which the author does use the ‘F’ word a lot, at the same time he also tells us we have to pick and choose carefully what to even give an ‘F’ about. But we also have to be careful not to overthink the thing because, for the swearing to work its pain reduction magic, seems it has to come from the flight or fight (not the higher order thinking) part of the brain. So…not too much, not too little, but just right. You’ll figure it out. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* “Swearing relieves both physical and social pain, study finds (2017, June 1) Massey University More information: Michael C. Philipp et al. “Hurt feelings and four letter words: Swearing alleviates the pain of social distress,” European Journal of Social Psychology (2017). DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2264

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

Everybody’s Got A Story. What’s Yours?

“ [P] erception includes a multitude of assumptions….For instance, confirmation bias — noticing evidence that affirms one’s world view, but disregarding contradictory evidence….contributes to preconceived ideas that keep us locked into a narrow perspective on our personal and social reality.”*

Wait, so the truth is that we don’t (actually can’t) tell, nor even know, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Meaning that most if not all of what we think of as truth is no more than the sum total of the stories we create and tell. The above quote is from a story in Nature about stories in Deviate, a new book about the stories we tell ourselves that we live in as if they are true. Here’s some more:

“…neural networks that make sense of what we ‘see’ are fed by a relatively small stream of information from the eyes. About 90% comes from other parts of the brain, allowing us to recognize faces, identify danger or read a sentence such as ‘W at ar ou rea in ?’ despite the omitted letters. That you probably didn’t read that as ‘What are you dreaming?’ is the result of priming your attention to a context of reading. What enters the eye is often an insignificant part of the story.”*

This idea that the brain tells itself and us stories about most of what it ‘sees’ reminds me of the story about the Ten Blind Chinese Men asked to say what an elephant is. As more than an aside, I’ve seen this story as the 3 men, the 6 men, the 10 men, the 7 men, and sometimes but not always the men are Chinese. Stories morph over time, a point to which we will return, but you can click here for a nicely illustrated version of 6 blind Indian men and an elephant. In it, the blind man holding the trunk says an elephant is a pillar. The blind man holding the ear says an elephant is like a big fan. Each perceiving only what he can perceive is 100% certain that he is right and the other is wrong. And each is telling the truth and right that what is perceived is like a pillar or a fan – but inaccurate and incorrect in describing an elephant as either one. Perception is everything and can be grossly untrue.

Another famous example of how faulty human perception can be is the Harvard Gorilla Experiment. Participants are asked to watch a video of 3 people in white shirts and 3 people in black shirts passing a ball, and to keep track of how many passes the white shirts made. What gets completely missed by half of the participants is that a gorilla-costumed person enters the scene, looks right at the camera, thumps his chest, and after 9 seconds leaves. Participants said, and I’m sure believed to be true, that they would never miss anything like that, only to find out that, lo and behold, half of them did! The experimenters concluded that we are not only missing a lot of truth but have no idea how true for us it is that we are living more in our stories than in what we think of as truth.

And what about science altogether, thought by so many to be the epitome of truth. Not even counting the more conscious and deliberate fudge factoring to make data fit a scientist’s hypothesis, one need only consider the discoveries of Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein to know that what we hold true can become untrue over time. Seems that the best we can do is to tell ourselves stories that morph into new stories once new perceptions render the old stories unhelpful and false. This is why it is said that eyewitness testimony is not as truthful as we would like to think. Studies show that the story morphs over time. So, for example, if there is a weapon at the scene of the crime, the eyewitness may be more likely to focus so much on the weapon (like the white shirts in Gorilla Experiment) that other relevant and important details of the crime are forgotten, distorted, or missed at the time. It was also found that an eyewitness story could be altered simply by the modification of a single world in the interviewer’s question. Once again, more about the stories created and told than what we like to think of as truth.

Why, why, why? What is the point of all this illusion, deception, revision, and incomplete information in perception. Why hasn’t evolution or god or the universe or someone fixed this problem? Maybe because it helps us. We cannot possibly process all the stimuli in and around us. It’s too much. You already know what overload feels like. Can you even imagine life without the Selective Attention we use in the moment to help control the flow of information and keep us sane. And can you even imagine having to remember every single detail of everything that ever happened to you in the past exactly as it happened to you. Einstein said we should never have anything in our heads that doesn’t need to be there. It appears that what does need to be there is the right amount and kind of information to arrange into a story with enough meaning to help us move forward in our lives in the best possible way.

Do the stories we live in (star in) always help us to move forward in our lives in the best possible way? No they do not. Sometimes they restrict and ruin everything. Take the women** who tell me their stories that there is something wrong with them or, worse, that they are nothing without a man. This faulty perception is not their fault exactly. Evolutionary psychology might say that women are more and less wired for it. In the Origins of Virtue, Matt Ridley tells us that meat is the currency the alpha male chimps pays his allies to keep him in power, sharing the meat not just with male allies, but with his mother and girlfriends too. To the extent we may have behaved similarly, way back when our brains were forming, it’s conceivable that females competed for men to provide meat (iron) to help make and feed their babies, and for protection of themselves and their babies too. That’s one story.

Another story is found in Geoffrey Miller’s, The Mating Mind. Miller tells us that ancestral females would have been much safer in a group of a sisters, aunts, and female friends than with a single male in a nuclear family. He believes that female humans were large and strong as primates, and did not need to rely for safety on males only 10% taller than they were themselves. He adds that many hunter-gatherer women today, when asked, will say many men eat too much, require too much care, and are basically more trouble than they area worth. Okay, that’s a bit of a different story. Which one is true? Doesn’t matter. Look, times have changed. Women can feed themselves and their babies, not all women are even going to have babies, we are no longer on the savannah, and the ways in which people can now live purposeful and fulfilling appear limitless to me – and more dependent on the stories we tell ourselves, and how much we believe them and live in them, than anything else.

Take the people who live in a story that other people have it better, in work, in life. FOMO (fear of missing out), more stories (based on other peoples stories) that can be revised. To revise and improve the story in which we live we have to mess with the mind. But heck, the mind messes with us all the time, so why not. Go ahead and rewrite the beginning, the middle, the end, in whatever ways you like, to bring a smile to your life. For sure, we all have something for which to be grateful, if only that we live and breathe to fight another day – even better to enjoy it. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* “Our Useful Inability to See Reality,” Douwe Draaisma, April 20, 2017.

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


Managing Mismatch: You vs. You.

Mismatch Hypothesis: According to evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology, humans evolved to survive in the African Pleistocene savanna. However, today’s environment is very different from that ancestral environment. This mismatch between our evolved psychological traits and today’s environment is detrimental to our well-being (Fitzgerald & Danner, 2012).”* 

Evolutionary Psychology’s Mismatch Hypothesis that behavior traits formed in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA) about 125,000 years ago do not always serve us well – is not without its critique. Arguments against, most notably from the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, center on the difficulty in disentangling biology and culture, particularly given the paucity of direct observational data on which the assumptions of the hypothesis are based, and the abundance of studies on American college students as somehow representative of Homo Sapiens all.

Skeptics of the Mismatch Hypothesis talk about evolutionary psychology’s explanations on why we are the way we are as “Just So” stories, from Rudyard Kipling’s seductively simplistic ‘Just So” stories or myths about, for example, how the leopard got its spots. But seduce they do for many of us, including yours truly and a long list of evolutionary psychologists, many of whose work I know and have really enjoyed. As a lot, they are smart and very funny on how ridiculous we as humans can sometimes be and behave.

It’s not all funny though. Indeed, the ‘mismatch’ idea is that our biological priming to respond to an environment that no longer exists can really hurt us, if we let it. Maybe you’ve already heard about our famine related preferences for sugar and fat. Once upon a time, we had no idea where our next meal would come from. Now sugar and fat are everywhere, too much of a good thing, but tell that to the anxious brain primed to store up as much sugar and fat as possible because, well, you never know. Here’s another example: Way back when, we were all nomads with bodies accustomed to being on the go. Look at us now, with our Sitting Disease, and associated heart disease, diabetes, blood clots, and other inactivity related ailments. And another: In the ancestral environment, we were never far from kin. Now we are, on purpose, spread all over the place, away from our biological kin, with little to no consideration of the deleterious effects to our mental health.

The “Mismatch Hypothesis” holds that we were not built for these demands on our minds and bodies built at an earlier time for other things. Mismatches are everywhere. Even at, especially at, work. In “Evolution in the Office: How Evolutionary Psychology Can Increase Employee Health, Happiness, and Productivity,” the authors talk about how dramatically different our modern day office environment is from the savannah type environment for which our brains may be adapted. Their premise is that the modern day office causes “biophilia – an appreciation and longing for our natural environment.” So, for example, they recommend windows for sunlight, actual greenery, or images of greenery, napping times and places, and both exercise and socialization opportunities.

Now some would say, oh please…those office windows have nothing at all to do with our love of and yearning for sunlight. It’s cultural not biological. An office with a window is all about prestige. Well, guess what, some would say that prestige, or status seeking, is biologically programmed into who we are too. Let’s hear from one of my favorites, Robert Wright, who taught evolutionary psychology at Princeton, and wrote the book I cut my teeth on after hearing him speak at a small seminar I attended back in the 90’s. From his book, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology:

“The stakes are very real. Resources are allotted in rough accordance with status….The genes may work by instilling drives that, in humans, get labeled “ambition” or “competitiveness”; or by instilling feelings such as “shame” (along with an aversion to it and a tendency to feel it after conspicuous failure); or “pride” (along with an attraction to it and a tendency to feel it after doing impressive things. But whatever the exact feelings, if they raise fitness, they will become part of the species’ psychology….Whether we know it or not, we tend naturally to rank one another, and we signify that rank through patterns of attention, agreement, and deference – whom we pay attention to, whom we agree with, whose jokes we laugh at, whose suggestions we take (pp. 245, 257).”

Status matters, more than we think it should, and my clients tell the tale.** Otherwise wonderfully attractive and talented men and women, restricted in work and love, by their own condemnation of the very human nature Wright just described. Whether we know it or not, whether we think we like it or not, the best of us can experience ambition, competitiveness, shame, pride, envy, jealously… These are human qualities that may have helped us to survive and to thrive as a species, why they are here, even if they are at times overblown, overdone, overused in our present day environment.

So no, if someone else appears to have more status than we do ourselves, we will not be deprived of food and drink and left to die. And it is a serious case of “mismatch” to respond as if we will. We may be programmed to feel crummy if we have tried in work or love and missed our mark. We are wired for this, from a long, long, time ago when the stakes were a whole lot higher than in reality they currently are. Okay fine, we may even want to lay low for a limited period of time so no further shame nor harm will come our way until we feel better enough to try again, but we will not die. And breathing – in through the nose count of 6, out through the nose count of 6, belly out on the in breath, belly in on the out breath – is the best and most immediate way I know to calm the anxious mind when the mismatches come crashing in to bring us down. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* A Critique of Evolutionary Psychology, Kirk Honda, Psy.D., LMFT, October 7, 2014.

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


Talking 101: True, Kind, Necessary, Beneficial.

On average, people resolve misunderstandings in communication once every 90 seconds….Without such a system, our communication would fail constantly,” says Mark Dingemanse, first author of the study.*

Some would say their communications fail constantly anyway. Okay, maybe not constantly but more than they’d like. So what can we do? First rule of Talking: True, Kind, Necessary, Beneficial. This from the ancient Hindu text, the Baghavad Gita – “Austerity of Speech.” All we need to know. All we need to do. Before we speak, we think…is it True, Kind, Necessary, Beneficial, and if it’s not we just don’t. We just don’t talk. Now what makes that so hard? Whenever I give a workshop and introduce this concept of right speech, people start scribbling frantically on their notepads as if they just heard something really important that they never heard before. It just happened the other day with an executive coaching client of mine.** And they’re right; it is important. So what’s the point of all the garbage that comes out of our mouths? Well…actually there is a point to some of our drivel but first let’s look at how we got started talking at all.

In Evolution and Human Behavior, John Cartwright tells us that the first talker could have been Homo habilis, 2 million years ago or Homo erectus, 1 million years ago. You may also click here for no less than 200 references on the origins of language. But here is what matters for our purposes. To be sure, talking is a social plus, and one that has helped us to survive and to thrive all along, likely for millions of years. How else would we suppose that our ancestors could negotiate who gets to eat how much and what cut of the meat from the hunt? How else would they have been able to make deals, detect cheaters, alert each other to danger, and the like. Well why couldn’t they just do it with the wave of a hand or a point of the finger, “Food over here…ferocious beast over there”? Because it didn’t work in the dark for one thing and, even if it was light out, then we had to be looking at each other all the time, just in case someone decided to ‘say’ something, instead of either resting our eyes or using them to scan outward for food, danger, or sex opportunities. Listen to this from Schlain’s The Alphabet Versus The Goddess:

“…evolution came up with the economical idea of using the human tongue for communication. While virtually every other muscle group in the body engaged in a vital activity fairly regularly, the tongue just sort of lay in the mouth between meals, doing little except help with swallowing saliva. The brain, like a patient Olympics coach, taught the tongue to perform a wide range of acrobatic gymnastic…the langue (tongue) in language became the indispensable shaper of speech.”

The tongue just sort of lay there…wonderful! So by putting the tongue to work, hands could do all kinds of great things, like carrying babies, using tools… But the tongue’s sounds (words) can be misunderstood, so researchers have found universal mechanisms to repair these otherwise faulty communications that can make a huge difference in our lives. The 3 universal strategies* from 12 different languages include:

  1. a “huh” to call for a repetition of what was said.
  2. a call for more detail about certain information, such as “who” or “where.”
  3. a bid for confirmation when the listener repeats what was said.

The authors tell us that humans try to be kind by using an easier strategy for the speaker than the open ended “huh” one, when they can. What’s also really interesting here is that humans are the only species known to interrupt to repair. I happen to know people who freak when they are interrupted.** Little do they know what a tribute to the importance of what they are saying, what an act of kindness, and how completely human and normal interrupting can actually be. Turn-taking, as in listening and preparing one’s response at the same time, is something that comes out in the literature much better than we tend to think it is, for its efficiency and effectiveness in getting the communication job done.

But not all speech is as overtly purposeful as that. Some of it is just for… you know…bonding. Not to minimize bonding, we’d be nowhere as a species without bonding, but here’s where the drivel comes in.

Talking is a social lubricant, not necessarily done to convey information, but to establish familiarity…. these vocalizations are equivalent to the chitchat that we do. People think that conversations are like exchanging mini-lectures full of information. But most of the time we have conversations and forget them when we’re done because they’re performing a purely social function.”

That’s a relief in a way, isn’t it? Trouble is that the chitchat can be mindless and when we are talking just to talk it doesn’t always come out right. In fact, studies have shown American civility to be on the decline. As only one example, 25% of Americans reported using the f-word every day, up 10 points over the last 10 years. True, kind, necessary, beneficial. Maybe true, but has to be all 4. And even where talking may be civil, true, and kind, it may not be necessary and beneficial at all.

For some people, it goes something like this: I Talk Therefore I am. Why not just: I Breathe Therefore I Am. If all that is needed is reassurance that one exists, breathing should be enough. Breathing is true, kind, beneficial, and necessary. But breathing doesn’t tell us that we are really amazing and that the whole rest of the world knows it. Anyone can breathe. But impressing the world, just by making these amazing words come out of the mouth, well now we’re talking. Only no one is listening, more than likely not even the talker, when the talking has taken on a life of its own with no redeeming social value to it. So we think before we talk: Is it True, Kind, Necessary, and Beneficial? And, if it’s not we can repair the words before we let them out or, if there really is no point, for the benefit of all, let’s just breathe. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Universal patterns for the “repair” of human communication discovered. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, September 16, 2015

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



What is a fate as bad as death?….in the past, estrangement from family or friends, along with the corresponding exile away from the campfire or town gates, meant literally getting thrown to the wolves. Not surprisingly, our brains are wired with circuitry so that we can scrupulously avoid such fates….The neurological wiring that makes us feel [social] pain, new research suggests, also means that a common painkiller could ease the sting.* [Read more…]

In Love: Play Together, Stay Together

  “Play refreshes a long-term adult relationship. In a healthy relationship it is like oxygen: pervasive and mostly unnoticed, but essential to intimacy. It refreshes by promoting humor, the enjoyment of novelty, the capacity to share a lighthearted sense of the world’s ironies, the enjoyment of mutual storytelling, the capacity to openly divulge imagination and fantasies….these playful communications and interactions produce a climate for easy connection and deepening, more rewarding relationship – true intimacy.

Take play out of the mix and, like a climb up the oxygen-poor ‘death zone’ of Mount Everest, the relationship becomes a survival endurance contest. Without play skills, the repertoire to deal with inevitable stresses is narrowed. Even if loyalty, responsibility, duty, and steadfastness remain, without playfulness there will be insufficient vitality left over to keep the relationship buoyant and satisfying.”*

Someone I know** once said that couples do all this vacation, theater, movies stuff because they are bored out of their minds with each other. If people are really into each other, she said, they don’t need all that. And if they’re not into each other without all that, they shouldn’t be together. She makes adult play sound lame. Researchers on play make it sound not only normal and natural, but really, really smart. Here’s why.

In American anthropologist, human behavior researcher, and self-help author Helen Fisher’s Why We Love, we learn about phases of love:

“Lust, the craving for sexual gratification, emerged to motivate our ancestors to seek sexual union with almost any partner. Romantic love, the elation and obsession of “being in love,” enabled them to focus their courtship attentions on a single individual at a time, thereby conserving precious mating time and energy. And male-female attachment, the feeling of calm, peace, and security one often has for a long-term mate, evolved to motivate our ancestors to love this partner long enough to rear their young.”

As you may know, there is a bit of a trade off over time. Rather like wine pairing for multi-course meals, different wines for different phases of the meal, Fisher tells us about the different hormones accompanying different phases of love. So the crazy, wonderful, roller coaster buzz we feel at the beginning, left to mother nature, over time not so much. She has other things, like the long-term stability of our nest, in mind for us. Hence the calm, peace, and security that can morph into boredom if we are not mindful of the potential for just that. Boredom.

Fortunately, a lot of people know this. They know what to do, and they do it. All manner of adult play together, including, according to Bloggers Brett and Kate McKay: Body play (dancing), Object play (golf), Social play (dining with friends), Pretend play (role play), Narrative play (sharing stories), Creative play (trip planning), Attunement play (viewing together TV, sports, movies, theater, the Grand Canyon…). Whatever feels to the two of you like play, meaning that even if there is some point to it (like sex for procreation), if the delight of it outweighs the point of it, it can qualify as play.

To repeat: “…these playful communications and interactions produce a climate for easy connection and deepening, more rewarding relationship – true intimacy. Take play out of the mix and, like a climb up the oxygen-poor ‘death zone’ of Mount Everest, the relationship becomes a survival endurance contest.”*

Okay, so in truth, just because there is no apparent point to the play other than for the fun of it, there really is a point to it. That’s a good thing. Play is a good thing, although theories abound on what the fundamental and enduring point of play is. Studies have shown playfulness in adults to be positively associated with academic performance, work performance, stress management, sense of well-being, physical health, social bonding, and problem solving abilities, to name a few. Nice outcomes. They go on to posit that the positive emotions associated with these outcomes may explain at least in part why men and women rank playful, fun loving, and sense of humor so highly when asked what they are looking for in a mate. That is, playfulness would be seen as good for the relationship, the well-being of each individual partner, and their long term excitement and affection for each other – to help us to pair bond and reproduce in ways that helped us to survive and to thrive as a species, no less.

But alas, not only do too many couples get buried in the daily grind of everyday life, as in, Who has time for play?, but researchers have mentioned as well that it is hard to get funding for research on play – precisely because it’s all so positive in the face of a hardwiring for negativity, known as the “negativity bias.” Here’s how that goes: In what we call the environment of evolutionary adaptation, millions of years ago when our modern brains were forming, if something great happened (like a mating opportunity) and we missed it, oh well, too bad, but there will be another. If, on the other hand, something terrible was coming down the pike and we missed it, no oh well, too bad’s about it; we just became somebody’s lunch. So it makes sense we’d be more vigilant about the negative than the positive as a survival rule. Trouble is we’re no longer in that environment and, though it may feel at times that we are about to become someone’s lunch, we’re not, not really. There are, therefore, much happier, healthier, more productive ways to spend our energy and our time than in the default of this normal, natural negativity mode.

Some of us live more in the negativity mode than others. Someone has to keep an eye out for danger and, if your partner has taken on that role more than you have, it would be nice if you expressed your gratitude (Thank you for your service) and took some of it on yourself some of the time. Just to be nice. And nicer still, would be if, as a team, you acknowledged that the normal hormonal shifts over time in relationships, coupled with the negativity bias in humans in general, are significant forces to contend with, together. Then, you two can, on purpose, plant play into your lives, as a habit forming staple from the start and for the long haul. Then you two can be and stay happy in love.

So how are you as an individual and as a couple going to Play today just to Play? Start today? Why not? Play Together. Stay together. For a happier, healthier, more productive Love. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202 617-0821

* Brown, Stuart, M.D., Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York: Penguin, 2010, p..166

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



After LOVE; Let Us PLAY

To the brain, getting dumped is the pain equivalent of getting burned by a hot cup of coffee….merely looking at a photograph of an ex-partner energized the neurological regions…that also process physical discomfort. Defensively, the dejected brain also signals the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and amplifies the body’s immune defenses as though warding off emotional pathogens. Indeed, as additional research further confirms, matters of the heart and mind are intimately connected.*

Ouch. That sounds serious. And it is. In love – and at work too, let’s say when we are let go or are unhappy enough to leave on our own – when our deeply held connections are severed and our dreams for a future in that connection are dashed – it hurts. The heart hurts, and the mind hurts, and sometimes we feel that loss of connection all over our bodies. So don’t let anyone tell you that you are not supposed to feel exactly as crummy as you do when you break up with the one you love. We are wired for this. By and for nature and nurture, in an effort to survive and reproduce, Pair Bonding matters to humans, and when the pair bond is ruptured that incredible urge to either repair it or replace it tells us all we need to know about how much we want to pair. Yes, there are what the attachment theorists call avoidant types. But it seems the wish to bond was once there in them too before ‘Enough is enough; I’m going it alone’ set in because s/he was either mistreated or ignored by an attachment figure too much of the time. By the way, try having a relationship with an avoidant type, and see how kicked in the stomach it feels every time you try to get close. Not a bad reason to break up, if things cannot be improved. You deserve better, you say. And you do.

Or maybe you two were close and really enjoyed being together. Maybe even though you both loved the same music, loved to hike or bike together, to take in the theater, or sit by the fire, or walk on the beach; maybe there was always something that didn’t feel good or right. Maybe it was the pain of incompatible core values that derailed you. As numbers of clients** have explained, they loved being together in the moment but for the long haul the plain truth was that their life plans and core values did not match. She embraced commitment; he embraced independence. She embraced intellectual and financial career success. He embraced simplicity and serenity via his art. Core values are the virtually unshakeable rules by which we live, and living long together by fundamentally different rules can sometimes, not always, but often enough make things too damned hard. So then they breakup – talk about hard.

Before we get to what makes breaking up so hard, and what we can do to make it easier, here are some interesting stats on breakups compiled from Facebook status updates*:

  • When: the most common day for breakups is first Monday in December, cleaning up mess before not during the holidays. Early March, spring break, a popular time for breakups too.
  • How: People born before 1975 tend to breakup in person 74% of the time. People born after 1984 breakup in person only 47% of the time, more likely by phone (30%), text (14%), email (4%).
  • Why: Everything from soup to nuts: Cheating, unsatisfying sex, not enough time together, loyalty, support, just not feeling it, “economy, politics, boredom and even vocal pitch as the final straws for various couples.” Kind of makes me wonder how many people really even know.
  • How Long: By this I mean how long does the grieving process take. “Eight weeks after getting dumped, 40 percent of people in one study exhibited signs of clinical depression, and 12 percent appeared moderately or severely depressed.” Remember, it’s supposed to hurt because evolution and culture want us to want to bond.
  • Who: Women initiate two-thirds of divorces and have the statistical breakup edge. Of course, sometimes her life partner left emotionally way in advance of the actual breakup, so it’s not clear who actually dumped whom.

In any case…Breaking up is hard to do. Hormonally hard. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or pleasure inducing drug, that can send us soaring, make us crazy, and boy does that feel good. The mere sight of a romantic partner can stimulate the brain’s reward system and flood us with this love drug. The realization that the loved one is gone deprives us of the drug. To avoid this deprivation we may find ourselves out of our minds motivated to repair the relationship to get the love drug back. Being with the one we love, also produces endorphins, and with endorphins comes that “general sense of well-being, including feeling soothed, peaceful and secure.” Without that drug we’re in withdrawal and, until we grieve a bit and restabilize, we feel none of the above.

So how do we grieve? Pioneering attachment theorist, John Bowlby, gave us 4 stages of grief: Numbness, Yearning, Disorganization and Despair, Reorganization. The more widely known psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kübler Ross, gave us 5: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. It appears that in Bowlby’s model the anger pretty much rolls into the yearning, that phase of bargaining to get the love back, and the anger associated with the frustration this fruitless effort entails. So these two models are very much alike, stages beginning with ‘make it not be over’ and ending with the acceptance that it is. Turns out the stages are not any more neat and clean than any relationship is. They can be a mess. No sooner do we think we’ve moved along to acceptance than something happens, let’s say a facebook post, and we are hurled back into the throes of painful emotion all over again. The brain does not forget that easily and can be triggered by almost anything, as you may know.

But visits by feelings from earlier stages of grief do not necessarily mean that we haven’t moved along in the grief process. We may think of these visits as all part of the process instead. Rumi has a wonderful poem, The Guest House, to help us think about all emotion in this way. And one of the best things I ever heard, may sound obvious to you, but hit me hard in a good way when I needed it, came from a philosophy mentor who said, “You know, Madelaine, it is possible to be happy and sad at the same time.” Great. So tears of frustration or sadness are not necessarily a setback. They are okay. In fact, studies have indicated that emotional tears calm our breathing and heart rate, and carry stress hormones that can be cleansed from our bodies when we let ourselves cry. So live it up. Don’t hold back. Go on. Have a good cry.

And then Play. Because, even if we can’t get back with the one we loved, there are plenty of other ways to get the peaceful, joyful lovin’ feeling back. Romantic love and sex are not the only ways to get the love drugs back. No sir. Exercise and playing games, video games, card games, varieties of challenging or competitive play – can increase dopamine levels. Dopamine (the pleasure drug) motivates us to achieve and rewards us with pleasure when we do, making us want to set and reach goals all the more. So after love, when it can feel like all is lost and you hate that deep, dark, foggy pit you’re in – Get up, Get out, and Play. And then your dopamine will motivate you to do even more of the kinds of things that increase endorphins, the inner morphine that can ease our pain and help us to feel happy again.

How to increase endorphins: Get out of the bed. Get off the couch. Hang out with people you like. Laugh. Go to the beach. Take a sauna. Play volleyball. Dance. Eat (dark chocolate, hot peppers, alcohol in moderation, and to some extent just about anything you enjoy). Help someone (helper’s high). Exercise. MEDITATE. Yes indeed, studies have found every one off these to impact our chemistry in ways that make us feel good when we might otherwise have felt nothing but bad. How to be happy and sad at the same time. How to lift oneself up and out, to help oneself to Play for the benefits to our overall health and happiness. And okay, who knows, maybe even to find that oh so delicious high, romantic love, out there in the playground once again. You never know what can happen when we least expect it, with an aura of health and joy on our side. Play, play, play. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Conger, Christen, How Breakups Work. conger

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

Play is Not the Opposite of Work

“Dr. Brown, is…the founder of the National Institute for Play, and he states, ‘when employees have the opportunity to play, they actually increase their productivity, engagement and morale.’….There is good evidence that if you allow employees to engage in something they want to do, (which) is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation.”*

Hmm, something they want to do, (which) is playful. I hope this means that, at work or outside of work, no matter where, no matter what, doing things we really want to do is nourishing and fun like play. Or even better, doing things we want to do is play, just because we want to do them. Unfortunately, people often talk about work and play as though they are separate and different. Work Hard. Play Hard. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Teddy Roosevelt said, “When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all.” But Einstein and others would disagree:

Albert Einstein: “Play is the highest form of research.”

Richard Brandson: “I don’t think of work as work and play as play. It’s all living.”

Simon Sinek: “The goal is not simply to ‘work hard, play hard.’ The goal is to make our work and our play indistinguishable.”**

Work and Play Indistinguishable…Amen! We have already looked at some of the benefits of play for work in “Let’s Play. Here’s Why.” Here we are looking at how to mush the two together to make play useful and work fun, all jumbled together so that if someone asked us whether we were working or playing, we wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care. Sound like a great way to live?

Look at Google, all employees have access to and can play during their workday. They have all sorts of activities like bowling, meditation, wall climbing, volleyball and more. Facebook, LinkedIn and Ideo also provide opportunities for play time at work, anything from ping-pong to arcade games and a few take it one step further by instilling a culture of play. These fun activities are not just for lunch, employees can get up and go play when they get tired of working on a project or answering emails.*

And, as the article goes on to say, trainers and consultants are bringing fun and games right into learning activities to help the learning stick. Contrasted with flatter types of spoon fed learning activities, emotional learning experiences get tagged in the brain, easier to retain. But these examples are at the group level, and I’m thinking too of folks I know who just wish with all their might they could wake up in the morning wanting to go to work. Of course, if they could make it workplay chances are they would, I mean if they are going to go in anyway, why not?***

Life is what our thoughts make it (Aurelius). So how can we use our thoughts to make work (a something we want to do) play. Well, it’s not really enough to just want to do it. We have to actually be into doing it while we are doing it. And that means we have to be paying attention, exquisite attention, to create what Csikszentmihalyi calls FLOW, the joyful state of optimal experience when we lose ourselves in what we are doing by paying attention to it. We all know what it is like to be reading a book and 3 pages later have no idea what we just read. Or driving to our destination without any recall of anything on the road that took us there. Boring. But ahh…attention, attention to what my philosophy tutors have called the working surface – where my fingers meet the keyboard when I am typing to you, where my listening receives the sound of my client’s voice, or my sight receives my client’s face and body language. Is there joy and play in this work I do? You bet there is and can be for you in yours too, all through the power of your attention. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202- 617-0821

* The Power of Play at Work, The Huffington Post, 9/14/2016

**Above quotes found via Work play internet images:;_ylt=A0LEV7p8NbBYxHQAroUPxQt.?p=play+work&fr=yhs-adk-adk_sbnt&fr2=piv-web&hspart=adk&hsimp=yhs-adk_sbnt&type=ma_appfocus29_ff#id=84&

***Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



Let’s Play. Here’s Why.

When you’re stressed, the brain’s activated emotional hub, the amygdala, suppresses positive mood, fueling a self-perpetuating cycle of negativity. Play can break you out of that straitjacket. It’s the brain’s reset button. This tonic we write off as trivial is a crucial engine of well-being. In its low-key, humble way, play yanks grownups out of their purposeful sleepwalk to reveal the animating spirit within. You are alive, and play will prove it to you.”*

According to Oxford Dictionaries, to “play” is to “engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.” Wait a minute, if “recreation” is the “Refreshment of one’s mind or body after work through activity that amuses or stimulates; play,” I don’t think we can rightfully say that refreshing one’s mind or body lacks serious or practical purpose. Anybody who has ever suffered burnout will tell you how practical and serious it is to bring one’s energy back to life – at work and at home.

In fact, Harvard researchers have found that play not only relieves stress but improves brain function, stimulates the mind, boosts creativity, improves relationships, builds energy and resistance to disease. Wow. But then, if it’s that good, how come we don’t play more. Seems to me right up there with the best of ways to spend our time. And yet, a lot of folks don’t look at play that way. As one author put it:

Our society tends to dismiss play for adults. Play is perceived as unproductive, petty or even a guilty pleasure. The notion is that once we reach adulthood, it’s time to get serious. And between personal and professional responsibilities, there’s no time to play.

Make time. You know you can. Somehow we all manage to find time for whatever it is we really want to do. But maybe you haven’t played in a long time, and don’t even know what would be play for you. After all there are so many kinds of play:

  • Object play (basketball)
  • Locomotor play (running)
  • Social play (pretending)

And there is play that doesn’t look like play at all. Take imagination. When we have a problem on our hands and may ask ourselves what someone we admire might do in a similar situation, is that not a form of playing around up there in the brain. In fact, more than a few people** I know play most of what could be the best parts of their lives up there in the brain, more as spectators up in the stands than players out there on the field of their very own lives. These folks spend time planning trips they never take, imagining love they won’t go out to find, wishing for their dream career from the desk they will not dare to leave. It’s a fine place to start, with that glimmer in the mind’s eye about how we dream things to be. But it’s a terrible place to be stuck, and won’t get us much of those serious and practical benefits of play if we are.

So, what’s in the way for those who don’t or won’t play as much as they could? Fear? Fear of looking like a fool? Fear of making a mistake? Fear of being undeserving? Fear of work undone? You name it. Name it for yourself. So for example, when the spoiler in you says ‘You have work to do’ you may follow that with something like ‘Yes, I do, and it will be there for me when I’m done refreshing my mind to do it better’. Or when the spoiler says ‘You will look like a fool out there on that dance floor’, you can agree again with something like ‘Yes, you are right, I might, but how I look is irrelevant for a physical activity aimed to improve how I think and feel.’ And for anyone having trouble figuring out what’s the best play for you, you may take a magic carpet ride back to your childhood, and picture yourself playing at what you loved to do. I, for one, spent hours on end writing books as a little girl, with construction paper covers, sewn up the middle with yarn. For me, reading and writing were play, and still are favorite ways to spend my time. And you? What was it for you then? How do you dream about playing now? How about to start: One time a day designated just for play? Or something else you might devise. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202- 617-0821

* Working Smarter “The Missing Link to Life Satisfaction: Play. Joe Robinson

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


Love at Work

Chartered Psychologist (Occupational) Dr. Fiona Beddoes-Jones, in a study of over 300 managers/leaders, found the majority of respondents were dissatisfied with the level of warmth and care displayed at work and believed that their wellbeing would be improved if there was more ‘love’.”*

Not what you thought? Maybe you thought ”Love at Work” would be about affairs, 85% of which were found to begin in the workplace. Or maybe you thought we were talking about finding true love and marriage at work. Turns out a lot of people do meet their spouses at work, around 10% in 2009, down from 20% in the 1990’s, due to the rise of internet dating, one study finds. But affairs at work and finding true love at work are not what this piece is about. What we are talking about here is love at work about the work, for both the work, and the people who are doing it.

In business school there was a course called “Managing Work Groups,” which was in essence a T-Group. T-Groups “use feedback, problem solving, and role play to gain insights into themselves, others, and groups.” One of the men and one of the women** in the group seemed to lock horns every time the class met. So one day one of the students asked, “What do you two think is underneath all the fighting?” The answer was affection. The truth beneath the fighting was that these two had a crush on each other – and that no one in the group had any idea what to do with affection at work, no doubt a large part of why, if not exactly why, warmth and care (aka love) tend to get withheld at work. Awkward. Doesn’t feel appropriate. Doesn’t feel safe. And to some extent it’s not if it is not mindfully managed, especially with people working such long hours and traveling together so much of the time. So what kind of love does it take to enrich the work, to enrich the worker’s experience of it, and to enrich the relationships in and out of the workplace, all at the same time. Let’s take a look at Hot Groups.

Hot group members behave like people in love…. The excitement, chaos, and joy generated in hot groups make all the participants feel young and optimistic regardless of their chronological age. In hot groups, the usual intellectual and social inhibitions are relaxed. These qualities almost re-create the sense of exuberant confidence people feel as children. Many people may have felt the excitement of a hot group when they were at school, putting together a show or a school magazine. It may have been in the military in a squad fighting its way up an impossible hill. Perhaps it was in a research group on the trail of an elusive gene or in a cross-functional new product team building the next generation of pasta makers. We have even received unsubstantiated reports of hot groups taking root in boardrooms. Overall, however, hot groups are rare, especially within traditional organizations.

Note the wording “sense of exuberant confidence people feel as children.” That’s what is too often missing in the workplace, that sense of exuberant confidence. But it doesn’t come from warmth alone. The bird wants to fly. The tree wants to grow. So do we and, as children or adults, to grow and to fly we need clear guidelines and boundaries, as much a part of loving as anything else. As the study found,* “People want clarity from a logical and pragmatic manager, but they also what to feel that a manager and the organisation genuinely care about them and that is often what is missing.” So for example, Hot Groups can be too heavy on emotion and not heavy enough on the guidance and boundaries they need to help them protect their outside relationships and to avoid burnout altogether from the intensity of it all. Everything, including love at work, in good measure, I guess we could say, and for this we need to pay attention to the work, to the work relationships, and to the impact of these on everything else. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202- 617-0821

*“Leaders and managers should be taught how to ‘love’ their staff,” January 5, 2017

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


Narcissism Continued…

“Narcissistic Personality Disorder…An enduring pattern of grandiose beliefs and arrogant behavior together with an overwhelming need for admiration and a lack of empathy for (and even exploitation of) others.”*

Every day people thank me for my posts on Narcissism. When I mentioned this to someone I know** she replied that, not counting the current intensified interest in the topic politically, she believed that most people either know a Narcissist or are afraid they are one. And pity the ones who try to love one. Holy Hannah. It hurts. It matters. And people are trying to figure it out.

Some experts are saying that Narcissism is rampant these days; selfies, facebook, and the like. Others are saying that true pathological narcissism is in fact quite rare, that Narcissism is an overused term we lay on people who get on our nerves: in-laws, exes, ‘difficult’ people of different stripes.

So what is it and why is it? Here’s my take. At the risk of sounding grandiose and arrogant myself, I do want you to know that I am not just pulling what I am about to say out of my personal experience, although there is that. Having studied the topic with the masters, I have come to think of the ordinary old Narcissist, the kind a lot of us know and worry we may be, in a way I believe to be both useful and humane. See what you think.

What we commonly refer to as Narcissism is a continuum on which we all live that has something to do with how much energy it takes to steady our sense of self, everyday. What it takes for each of us to feel okay enough about who and what we are to do well in love and work (that’s Freud, love and work, all there is) varies. Easier for some than for others. Some pretty much wake up feeling okay enough, maybe not perfect, but who is, and who needs to be. We’re all just peas in a pod trying to get through the day in the best way we know how. Others might be plagued by more crippling angst about themselves and their place in the world. These are the people who spend so much energy on ‘looking good’ to themselves and others that there is little if any energy left in genuine caring for anyone or anything else. These are the ones we may see as grandiose and arrogant who, underneath their glossy exteriors, may be all the more likely to be deeply demoralized and depressed.

Maybe their parents were stingy about loving them just for being, and/or stingy with praise for specific behaviors when it was deserved. Maybe that’s how the parents were raised and the only way they knew how. Or maybe the parents loved them in a enmeshed, hovering kind of way, or praised them too much, hooked to nothing particularly deserving of it. Sometimes it’s inconsistent; sometimes too much, sometimes too little. Either way, the child grows up wondering what if any of it had anything to do with him/her at all. Either way, there is little sense of stable self to wake up with everyday. And that’s where an unfortunate amount of time and energy goes – toward the stabilization of the self. The leftovers, what little there are if any, might go to caring about other people in love and work. But not necessarily even then, if it has become one’s habitual way of being in the world to almost entirely, if not entirely, care pretty much about oneself. Nature/nurture it seems because some experts are saying that Narcissism, as a character disorder or personality style, can have a genetic component too. And, culture, let’s say social media comparisons, not helping either, as you know.

So if we know one, love one, are one, too far along on the continuum of energy expenditure…what can we do? We can stop it. Yes, that’s right. Chronic stress shortens the telomeres on the end of our chromosomes, and shortened telomeres shorten our lives. When we find that we are being damaged chronically by another person’s utter disregard for us, we can and should run for the hills. Leave the relationship. Find a new job. What if you can’t? What if you love the guy/gal? What if you’ve done your due diligence and found that this is the best job, or only job, for you? Then please, please make it a priority to take very good care of you. Food, fun, sleep, exercise, interests, social supports; call on everything you’ve got to take care of you. Wait you say, won’t that make you one of them? With all this focus on yourself. Not necessarily. You should be taking care of yourself anyway, and they always say to put the oxygen on your own face before you try to help anyone else when the plane is in trouble. Take a good whiff and get on with your day.

Now, what if it’s you? What if you’re the one who spends too much of yourself trying to feel good about you. What can you do to ease the pain for you and everyone around you? Well, you can stop making your self-esteem your full time job. Check out Ron Siegel, PhD who talks about self-esteem collapse. For Siegel, self esteem (as in, our estimation of ourselves) is something that has a way of rising and falling when this or that happens for all of us whether we like it or not. And when this or that doesn’t happen too. So like when you didn’t get the memo, or the reply to your email, or the invitation to the party you didn’t even want to go to. You felt bad, real bad, even if you didn’t want to go! For Siegel, the what we can do is to begin to notice – to begin to notice the tyranny of self esteem, to notice what slaves we are to trying to make ourselves feel good not bad in the face of provocations, big and small, all day long. But we can get a grip on that. What if, instead of trying to win the all consuming self esteem game, we stopped playing it as much as we do. We are who we are. Unlikely we can stop altogether. Unlikely we should. But just think how much energy we could free up, for the good of ourselves and each other everywhere in our lives, if we started paying enough attention to discipline our minds in playing the game – a little bit, somewhat, or a whole lot – less. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me…

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*“Narcissistic Personality Disorder” PubMed Health

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


Power of Will: New Years Tip

Just as we should seek joy by engaging in enjoyable pursuits, we can receive the benefits of willpower indirectly, by removing the need to expend it in the first place. Instead of focusing on willpower, we should look to the power of will.” *

Right on!! Love that. Power of Will. And what’s wrong with Willpower? Well, turns out there is considerable debate in the literature on whether the faculty of the mind we call willpower is like fuel in a fuel tank that gets depleted and needs to be refilled (maybe with a cookie or bowl of ice cream) – or more like an emotion (say, joy) that comes and goes and can be taken as a guide to inform our optimal living. Not a matter we will settle here; the studies are ongoing. But, what this author contributes is the notion that when we don’t feel like doing something we know we should, or we feel like doing something we know we shouldn’t – we should take heed, pay attention. There is important information here.

His example is good. He is a writer. Sometimes he doesn’t feel like writing. Sometimes it just pours out of him. He says he could use his willpower (no good) to force himself to write the stupid thing, but it won’t be nearly as good as a piece he really wants to write. The great piece is driven by the power of his natural will to write it. Feels like it practically writes itself. The not-as-good piece drains enormous amounts of time and energy, as he forces himself to just get the thing done. Of course, he feels depleted. He just wrung himself out doing something he didn’t want to do, propelled by nothing more than some idea from who knows where that he was supposed to do it.

Pay attention. If everything in us is saying we don’t want to do this whatever it is, then maybe there is not a thing wrong with our willpower. We just don’t want to do it. And then maybe we shouldn’t. Not right then anyway, because forcing it is bound to deplete us, maybe even make us resentful. Now we have to deal with that too, being all pissed off. And maybe we want to make it up to ourselves, to feel better whatever it takes, let’s say by mindlessly overindulging in some feel good in the moment no good person, place, or thing – like a bag of potato chips, I mean the whole thing. We know we do all kinds of things we know we shouldn’t to ourselves when we are tired or mad or both. People do this.** What Kelly McGonigal, PhD calls the “What-the-Hell” Effect. Once we have fallen already somehow, what-the-hell, and then there’s hell to pay for that. Excess drinking, eating, spending, couch surfing… So what’s a better way?

Well, what if every time we felt like we were forcing our will instead of being powered by it, we paused to ask ourselves how we would rather spend that moment of our lives – and go with whatever that is instead. Wouldn’t life be grand? Doing and not doing exactly what we do or don’t want to do all day long, every day for the rest of our lives. Wouldn’t work that way all the time would it? Not in love. And not in work. Sometimes we just have to do or not do things that go against our felt wishes at the time. Then what? Okay, so what if for that we paused and gave ourselves choices. What if we added two alternative courses of action to the one we felt pressured (and potentially drained) by. Then we could do a modified Lewinian Force Field Analysis. To keep it simple, quick, and propelling instead of inhibiting, instead of listing both the forces “for” and “against” each option, we could just list the forces “for,” pick the one that turns us on the most, and then use the power of that will to take us where we decided to go – like a magic carpet ride.

It’s a New Year. I am going to try this myself on a couple of fronts, and believe that it will work, which raises another point of the article for this post. Belief matters. People who believed humans run out of willpower felt depleted and performed less well on tasks they were assigned. So here’s to you and your own Power of Will to help you create the life you want to live. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else (including new program on Mindful Emotional Eating: Jump Start to Effectiveness) would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*“Have We Been Thinking About Willpower the Wrong Way for 30 Years?“ Nir Eyal

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

Mindful Emotional Eating: JumpStart to Effectiveness


Newsflash: Emotional Eating is NOT self-destructive. It is a legitimate form of self-care. And it is inevitable because, like it or not, we humans are inevitably emotional creatures. So whether you are eating to celebrate your joy or cope with your sorrow, whether you are eating to spice up your life or numb it out, or eating just because you like it and it feels good – feeling good is emotional so eating for pleasure is emotional too. In other words, all eating is emotional eating. That said, the mindless intake of food is not emotional and it’s not eating either. It is feeding – and feeding isn’t eating any more than taking nourishment through a nasogastric tube would be considered eating. Enter Mindful Emotional Eating: JumpStart to Effectiveness.

Based on the work of Pavel G. Somov, PhD, in this 4-session (1hr/session) program you will learn, interactively with me, how to turn food battles into food peace (and joy) for the rest of your life. Doesn’t have to be a struggle. Practice, practice, practice with me right from your home or office (by Hipaa compliant secure videoconference) and see what happens. Let’s get started. Contact me for details at or 202.617.0821. Would love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

Why I Have to Be Right and So Do You.

Few people saw Donald Trump’s victory coming, including Donald Trump. There are easy culprits to blame for the surprise win (skewed polls and fake news come to mind), but the biggest enemy might be our own egos. It’s natural to ignore everything we disagree with, and many of us don’t realize that we’re biased until we’re shocked into noticing that things are not like we expected. That’s true regardless of who you ultimately voted for.” *

This is not just about politics. Let me tell you about my people. Anthropologist and psychologist, Robin Dunbar, tells us that there is a limit to how many people we can manage as our own ‘my people’. This is a bit of a digression but so interesting, I think, that I want to share it with you, here below on the Dunbar number:

The Dunbar number is actually a series of them. The best known, a hundred and fifty, is the number of people we call casual friends—the people, say, you’d invite to a large party. (In reality, it’s a range: a hundred at the low end and two hundred for the more social of us.) From there, through qualitative interviews coupled with analysis of experimental and survey data, Dunbar discovered that the number grows and decreases according to a precise formula, roughly a “rule of three.” The next step down, fifty, is the number of people we call close friends—perhaps the people you’d invite to a group dinner. You see them often, but not so much that you consider them to be true intimates. Then there’s the circle of fifteen: the friends that you can turn to for sympathy when you need it, the ones you can confide in about most things. The most intimate Dunbar number, five, is your close support group. These are your best friends (and often family members). On the flipside, groups can extend to five hundred, the acquaintance level, and to fifteen hundred, the absolute limit—the people for whom you can put a name to a face. While the group sizes are relatively stable, their composition can be fluid. Your five today may not be your five next week; people drift among layers and sometimes fall out of them altogether.

Back to my people…can’t think of a single one of them, not a single person I know, who doesn’t think s/he knows something. Kind of like the 10 blind Chinese men asked to say what an elephant is by touching it, each describing it differently based on which part of the elephant he was touching. All are right, of course, but only partially right, given the limitations of what he can ‘see’. The truth but not the whole truth, and yet each is completely convinced that he is entirely right – and that everyone else is wrong. It was certainly that way with my people and the election, and, as I said, not limited to that. That’s pretty much just the way (my) people are, including but not limited to the one** who saw the print out of this “How the brain tricks you…” article sitting on my desk and laughed, haha, thought he had me now, somehow missing that it kind of applied to him too, as it applies pretty much to us all.

Now why is this? What is wrong with us? Nothing. It’s a strategy. Our beliefs tie us together. Strength in numbers. They are a vital part of how we know that we are not alone in this chaotic world. Anything, like new and accurate information, that threatens the strength of these beliefs threatens the strength of the social bonds on which we depend psychologically for our sense of well-being in the world. Our beliefs define us as individuals too, or at least we think so, even if my philosophy tutors are quick to point out that’s just the Ego talking, and the Ego talks too much. They call it the Ahamkara, aka the personality, that becomes so full of itself it doesn’t even know how little it knows. But try to diddle with the Ego, and it fights for it’s life. It’s right and you’re not. Simple as that.

So here’s the good news: People want to be right, but they also want to be good. Robert Wright, in The Moral Animal, tells us so and I have seen it myself again and again in written responses on exercises in organizational workshops I have run. Maybe because if we are not good our reputations can suffer and people with bad reps in the environment of evolutionary adaption were left to die, seems we are hardwired to think we are good even when we are not until and unless we get exposed. Then we get defensive. Then we have to be right.

But not really. No one is perfect. No one has to be. We are all just a bunch of humans trying to get through the day in the best way we know how. And if we want to draw people near, instead of pushing them away with our opinions on politics and other things, then here is what we can do. First thing is that we can remember the 10 blind Chinese men. Thoughts are not facts; they are events of the mind. The more recurrent they are, the stronger we feel them, and the more we think they are true even if they are not, especially if our thoughts are shared by people whom we think really matter to us.

So the next time you may find yourself mired in a ‘groupthink’ belief that is potentially obnoxious to others, or even obnoxious to a part of your own more rational self, good time to pause and remind: There goes thinking – thinking, thinking, thinking. Thoughts are not facts. They are events or ideas of the mind. Other people’s thoughts are events and ideas of their own. We are all right, based on what we can see, and not so much on what we cannot. But we can be more on-purpose curious about ideas and information outside of our own awareness – to at least try to see what we can’t see – for the good of all. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “How your brain tricks you into believing you’re the reasonable one: It’s so natural to ignore everything we disagree with,” Angela Chen, Nov 23, 2016,

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.







Judge Much? Too Much?

judgyA well-known saying urges people to ‘not judge a book by its cover’. But people tend to do just that – even after they’ve skimmed a chapter or two, according to Cornell University research….First impressions formed simply from looking at a photograph predicted how people felt and thought about the person after a live interaction that took place one month to six months later.”*

Who knew? Wouldn’t we all like to think that, even if we are judgy from the get-go, at least we can revise our impressions after actually meeting the person. Let it please be true, only according to this study it’s not. Instead they found that people looked at photographs of faces, some faces smiling some not, then participants made a determination that stuck for a good long time. The smiling people were considered liked and cloaked in all kinds of other positive attributes, e.g., they were assumed to be competent, with marriages and kids better off, just for smiling nicely in a photo. Faces in unsmiling photos were presumed unlikeable, unstable, disagreeable, narrow-minded. Yikes.

And this was just from photos. We have much bigger problems in real life where things get interactive with multiplier effects as a result. Here’s an example. When I moved here to DC I was struck by how smiley and friendly people seemed on the street. When I asked around about it, I kept hearing that here in DC one never knows, could be anybody, could be somebody really important, better safe than sorry, people pretty much networking all the time. Of course, I was new here, full of curiosity, head up in wide-eyed delight looking all around. And this may have made all the difference in the world – because I know people** who feel just the opposite about DC. These people who find DC people horribly unfriendly, say “no one ever looks up from their phones,” let alone to cast a warm and welcoming smile. No surprise that these people who see things so differently also happen to be people who wear BRF’s. Click here for an earlier post on BRF, what the kids call Bitchy Resting Face. Projection, projection, projection, we might say. We get what we give. Goes around comes around. Golden rule. Seems obvious once we know how much a simple smile can count. Ask Oprah who launched a whole campaign on smile.

But look, humans are judgy. We just are, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Judgy has helped us to survive and to thrive. It’s how we knew the difference between what we could eat and what could eat us. Who was friend and who was foe. So judge away we will. We are hard wired for it. Even so, as with all things of the mind, it is helpful to remember that the mind is an instrument for our use, not the other way around, and that we have a right and responsibility to use this instrument well. So, if we and the people on the street with us can have this much impact on one another, just by the judgments the mind makes in response to the expressions on our faces, think what a difference can be made in our work and home lives in face to face interaction with the people there. We can be mindfully in charge of what ‘face’ we bring to the world, so we don’t misrepresent ourselves in a way that we now know can stick for a very long time. And, conversely, we can cut a little slack for anyone with a BRF on, to judge not (or at least to judge less) lest ye be judged. My philosophy tutors have said, “Treat each person, no matter how many times we have been with this person, as if we are meeting him/her for the very first time.” I have tried this and liked it. You can too. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “When judging other people, first impressions last,” November, 28, 2016.

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

Indulge Yourself. Mindfully. It’s OK. Really.

indulge“Even though [the more mindful] participants were more likely to give in to some desires without guilt, they were also able to discern whether their desire was in conflict with a larger goal they had….If giving into the desire threatened that goal, they had self-restraint. In other words, when it really mattered to them, they could keep their eye on the prize and not give into the lure of instant gratification.“*

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally,” according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founder Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. The study here found that people in this sharpened state of awareness were more likely to indulge their desires, and without later guilt and remorse. It is as if, in this mindful state, just thinking about it “You can literally taste that bit of chocolate…whatever it is that you jones for.”* But wait, isn’t mindfulness supposed to put the executive brain in better control of setting goals and the discipline we need to reach those goals. Yes indeed, and that is exactly what the researchers found, i.e., that when it mattered participants who were mindful could exercise the self-restraint to forego the immediate pleasure for a greater good down the line.

What’s so great about this study is the permission it gives to actually enjoy ourselves, particular around this time of year when there is so much joy to be had. Well yes, for some more than others, there is sorrow in the mix too, but sorrow needn’t completely wipe out all joy unless we make that so. No matter what is going on in anyone’s life, somewhere in there is a simple joy to be had. Look around. Fill the senses. So much to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste…ah yes, taste, let’s talk about taste.

The premise of Mindful Emotional Eating is that All Eating is Emotional Eating because all eating feels good – even if it’s ‘good for us’ eating that makes us feel good about ourselves for eating good. And it’s not like we can ever do without eating altogether, let’s say like smoking. So, if we have to eat we may as well enjoy it in ways that do us more good than harm, which requires that we not feel bad about it because post eating guilt and shame tend to make people say ‘what the hell’ and binge eat even more. Reminds me of the gelato cone I had after piloting my 4-session program on Mindful Emotional Eating (MEE): Jumpstart to Effectiveness. Cone to mouth I stopped myself, turned to my friend and said, “Look, I have to concentrate on this gelato now because if I don’t it’ll be all gone before I can even know that I enjoyed it – and really otherwise what’s the point of eating it at all.” Another woman I know** who took the program reported more pleasure, less guilt, and less weight on the bones. To be clear, the goal of mindful emotional eating is food peace and pleasure, not weight loss per se because dieting is said to be a kind of deprivation that is the surest way to gain weight. But as we begin to eat more mindfully, we may experience greater satisfaction on less food so weight loss can naturally occur. That said…

Take control. Take back your joy. Use your sense(s). Actually look at your food before you put it in your mouth. Taste it before you swallow. Pay attention. Put your mind where your mouth is. Pause between one bite and another, so you even know you took a bite and enjoyed it. And, of course, allow yourself to stop, knowing that another eating event is coming soon – and that it will be good. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on Mindful Emotional Eating: Jumpstart to Effectiveness or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “Mindfulness Supports ‘Wise’ Indulgence: A recent study finds that mindfulness may not help us overcome all of our urges, just the ones that count.” Kelle Walsh. November 18, 2016m

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



Stand Up. Do Something.

standupWhat do most people do? They of course, wait for the New Year to come along. Then on Jan 1st, they want to change everything. Yes they are Superman, and they are confident they can change it all at once. They sign up for the premium gym membership (with personal training) and they clear everything from their kitchen cupboards & refrigerators (only green stuff left in the house). And expensive workout gear from Lululemon (You have to get it from Lululemon to prove that you are working out, right?).  The excitement, motivation is all there. Then what happens. Few weeks later, enthusiasm wanes and things are back to normal. If you don’t trust me, go to your gym during February. Actually things are not back to normal, they have got a little worse – you are still out-of-shape, but now you also feel like a failure.*

Stand Up; Do Something. Yes. Both figuratively, let’s say for post election or other doldrums – and, literally, for each and every one of us and our health. Stand Up; Do Something. Let’s take literally first.

To be clear, actually sitting for too long is no good for us even if we think we are doing something laudable while sitting: working, reading, writing, watching PBS… And, just in case you wondered (I did), lying down for too long is no better – except for during those 7-8 hours of precious and necessary sleep time. The reason is that the 3.8% of all deaths, due to our spending more than 3 hours/day sitting, is at root due to the inactivity of our legs, whether sitting or lying down.

Death due to more than 3 hours sitting? Yikes. I can and do top that regularly. So recently I bought a standing desk below and, although it does everything it is supposed to do, I still prefer to sit.

For one thing, sitting keeps me a better still point for my clients.** I tried a standing video conference with a client once and was fidgeting all over the place. That is, of course, why standing is good, to keep us moving, but not when and where I am meant to be still. And, truth be told, the other reason I prefer to sit is that I prefer to sit. But it’s no good. For one thing, when our “big [leg] muscles are slack…levels of blood sugar and cholesterol rise,” with deleterious effects on our metabolic processes and overall health – diabetes, cancer, heart disease, you name it.

And just in case you are wondering this too (I was), going to the gym does not erase the effects of too much sitting. Yes, it is good to exercise, and lack of exercise contributes also to our deaths. We know this about exercise. But it’s not just how long we move but how often we move as well. So, if we didn’t know before, we do know now that excess sitting is really bad for our health. The trick, however, is to know this when we need it in the moment so we can actually Stand Up; Do Something with those legs. Like what? Here are some tips adapted from the Money Crashers website:

  1. Standing desk or exercise ball chair to keep you moving throughout the day.
  1. Small drinking cups so you have to get up more often.
  1. Get up and move every 15-20 minutes or every hour on the hour for 5-10 minutes or so, walk when you are on the phone, go (walk) somewhere besides your desk for lunch.
  1. Walking meetings when possible.
  1. TV breaks, walking during commercials or doing something instead of TV altogether, like clean the house. We can also do squats and stuff while watching TV.
  1. Doing things the harder, old-fashioned way, like taking the steps instead of the elevator everyday.

Okay, well, that’s a lot of life change all at once. Enter a much more user-friendly approach: The One Degree Shift. We all know how easy it is to make life change resolutions and how hard it is to stick with them. The one degree shift is a paradigm shift on how we approach making change in our lives. The idea is basically, little by little, one baby step at a time. Thanks to our ancestors, we are all wired up to survive and to thrive. We are all wired up for the quest. The bird wants to fly. The tree wants to grow. And so do we. So anytime we find or accomplish some new opportunity or goal, we feel a surge of feel good dopamine that activates our brain’s reward system and energizes us for more. Doesn’t have to be big, one good thing leads to another, one step at a time. And doesn’t matter where you start. So, for example, to overcome the no-good metabolic “chair effect,” any one of steps 1-6 in the tips above, or some other idea of your own, is an excellent place to start.

Which brings us now to Stand Up; Do Something in the figurative sense. If things outside of your own control have gotten you down, stand up, do something, anything, take control however you can. Let’s say it’s election related or something else entirely, what is one small thing, no matter how small that you can do today to get the ball rolling in some constructive way. Some people** I know are taking one small step at a time aimed directly at curing the social injustice they see. “All I can think about now is what I can do,” said one woman whose voice lifted as she declared her intent. Others are taking steps aimed directly at addressing the personal impact of forces outside of their control. As only one example, a perhaps long overdue rethink of where to live and what work to do next. One door closes; another door opens, if we make that so. One step at a time. One thing we can do to motivate us, to move us forward, each and every day. One step at a time over time. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* The One Degree Shift, Nissar Ahmed,

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.