Happiness: Inside? Outside? You Decide.

“Given all that, the next time you have the choice between meditating and sitting in a bar with your friends complaining about meditation class, you should probably seriously consider going to the bar, no matter what your happiness app says.”*

Oh come on. Please tell me she was kidding. The author of this anti-mindfulness article, Ruth Whippman, is highly praised for her humor, so who knows. She is an author, journalist, and filmmaker. It does not, however, appear that she is a licensed clinician – so here’s a perspective from one who is.

Of course, Ms. Whippman is right that people spend too much time with their phones and their apps and whatever else cloisters them away from the real joys and challenges of other people. As Aristotle said, we are social animals, so it is also true that our health and well-being depends largely on the quality of our relationships with other people in our lives.

In fact, the Harvard Grant Study, a one of a kind longitudinal study, found that love is the key to a good and happy life. In the words of the study’s pioneering researcher, George Vaillant:

As Vaillant puts it, there are two pillars of happiness. “One is love,” he writes. “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

And therein lies the real key – and where mindfulness can help. How we cope with life. Surely we all know people who may not even know how much they stand in their own way of giving and receiving love. I don’t mean any old crap that passes for love, but the kind of love that nourishes, the kind that Vaillant is talking about.

One woman** told me that, just as the article suggested, she drinks with her friends at the bar to lift herself up when she feels down. But she noticed that while she was with her friend…she was not really with her friend – mostly because what ailed her on the inside distracted and removed her from the very human connection she craved. Intoxicating maybe. Nourishing not. She realized that her happiness would have to be as much an inside as outside job, and came to me to figure out how to cope with life on the inside in ways that did not prevent love.

That’s one end of the spectrum. At the other end, there are clients who aim to become perfect on the inside so they can feel worthy enough to risk an attempt to find and keep love. For them, the work is in finding the courage on the inside to get them out there to practice, practice, practice, as I like to say. This is how we grow. In relationship, I agree. Surely there is growth in our relationships, for my clients and me, but at some point they need to enact the learning in the real world for the real thing to happen for them out there for real.

For some, the inside needs caring and careful attention. For others, the outside job needs more of the mind’s attention that it’s been getting so far. Different strokes. Either way, all of my work is mindfulness-based, which is to say geared toward increasing present moment, non judgmental awareness of how the mind works, what makes us tick, and what gets in the way.

So, even though a number of experts I happen to respect make the point themselves that mindfulness is not for everyone and everything, they add that there are enough well crafted studies to indicate that there are ways in which it really can help. Some of it is in cultivating the kind of focus, calm, and compassion that finds and fortifies connection to inner and outer world love.

Don’t take their word for it, but let’s not throw this baby out with the bathwater either, just because someone has had some fun with it in print. Over time you might find that life begins to ease or even transform. I know mine did. But don’t take my word for it either. Practice, Practice, Practice…And See What Happens.

For help with this or something else (by videoconference from anywhere you are), or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Whippman, Ruth. “Happiness is Other People.” New York Times, October, 27, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/27/opinion/sunday/happiness-is-other-people.html

** 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.



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    https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-10-behaviors-perception.html. 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.  https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-08-mind-common.html

** 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. https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_167833.html

** 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 https://phys.org/news/2017-07-real-facebook-friends.html#jCp

** 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 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/the-power-of-play-at-work_b_12011462.html

**Above quotes found via Work play internet images: https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_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&iurl=http%3A%2F%2Fi.quoteaddicts.com%2Fmedia%2Fq2%2F456111.png&action=close

***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 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024871/

**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 madelaineweiss.com or 202.617.0821. Would love to hear from you!

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. http://scienmag.com/when-judging-other-people-first-impressions-last/

**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 http://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-supports-wise-indulgence/?utm_content=buffer5a2bb&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

**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, http://www.careermetis.com/the-one-degree-shift/

**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.


Healing America: The Pathology & Pathway Out

americaA first-of-its-kind study that ranks nations by empathy puts the United States at No. 7, behind countries ranging from Peru to Korea to Saudi Arabia. While a top 10 finish isn’t bad, Michigan State University’s William Chopik, lead author of the study, notes that the psychological states of Americans have been changing in recent decades – leading to a larger focus on the individual and less on others.” *

‘Individualism overriding empathy’ is one way to view what America’s election was all about. What about me? What about me? A cry heard from every corner. There are many ways and many levels upon which to view our election and its aftermath. Here I would like to address the electoral outcome as a pathological reaction to dramatic change and to propose a treatment for it. On so many fronts, the pace and depth of change has been exponentially breathtaking. Boundaries are shifting all over the place like mercury. Who are we? Who are they? And where is this all going? What does it even mean to be a human being for crying out loud, given how many of us are becoming as much medicine and machine inside our bodies as anything else. Our very identities feel threatened in ways that we hardly understand, but that nonetheless shake us to our core. In response, to use the vernacular, whether we know it or not…We are freakin’ out.

Who even knows what it means to be a family anymore, a gender, a nation? What does it mean to be a Republican now? Depends on which one we ask. Doubt they know themselves. What does it mean to be a Dem? The party of tolerance? Not so much, when we hear good people among my own dear friends and family saying things like “only half the country cares about others.” And they think it is the proverbial Us. We’re good; they’re bad. Us versus Them. Surely they know this is not true, or surely they should. Take a look at this passage from J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, his memoir about America’s white working class.

“Jacksonians say hello to everyone, willingly skip their favorite pastimes to dig a stranger’s car out of the snow, and—without exception—stop their cars, get out, and stand at attention every time a funeral motorcade drives past. It was that latter practice that made me aware of something special about Jackson and its people…”

So careful please whom we cast as people who don’t care. And while we might even consider the smashing to smithereens of both parties as a kind of long overdue creative destruction; still, any among us, of any party or not, who want the privilege of seeing ourselves as openhearted champions of democracy and diversity really need to walk this talk in tolerance of all. Not just the people like us, but the other ones too, the ones whose needs and perspectives may be different from our own. Casting the other as wrong, stupid, or bad is a solution that perpetuates the very pathology of ‘individualism overriding empathy’ that we must heal. The Cambridge dictionary defines an informal usage of pathological as “(of a person) unable to control part of their behavior; unreasonable.” What was pathological, what was out of control and unreasonable – and the losing party and pundits have already told us this themselves – is how many Americans were unable to listen to voices other than their own, how little empathy for the other was in the mix. This pathological ‘individualism overriding empathy’ went both ways and still does.

Doesn’t have to be this way. We have choices. We can go with the solution that is creating the problem of frightening discord and unbearable uncertainty, trying desperately to secure ourselves in our divisive We’re good; they’re bad. Or, no matter which side we are on, we can put ourselves in the shoes of the other, trying hard to see and respond to the cry for help outside of ourselves, in ways that make us feel bigger and better without feeling that we are losing ourselves. We can choose empathy over individualism to heal our nation and ourselves. We can take control – of our minds and behavior. We can call forth the better angels of our nature, as Lincoln would say. And, because we can, we must. Or at least that’s how it seems to me.

So here’s a little help. The goal is not so much to change our minds as it is to calm the lower brain enough to put the higher brain in control of how we respond to the very real and raw feelings of anxiety, depression, even rage, that so many Americans are feeling. The goal is not to take our feelings away but to calm the nerves so that we can think clearly about how we want to behave. Sure, some may say this is their grief process, that the only way out is through, that they are entitled to vent. True enough. And, through this, some will begin to notice the shortcomings of unbridled venting, if prolonged, for themselves and everyone else. Then they can begin to breathe. The day after the election the New York Times provided us with a simple guide to controlled breathing. In through the nose, out through the nose. Belly out on the in-breath. Belly in on the out-breath. Calming the body and the mind, to find and release the better angels of our nature, residing in us all. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* Is America still an ‘empathic and generous giant’? http://phys.org/news/2016-10-america-empathetic-giant.html

**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.


Nasty News About Rich People? True or False?

“Dating back to 2009, studies have shown that rich people fail to engage with strangers as much as their poorer counterparts, have a harder time reading other people’s emotions, are less empathetic and react less strongly to seeing depictions of suffering.”*

The question the Mcclatchy Washington Bureau is raising is this: “Do rich people really not care about anyone?” Okay, two things here: 1) It is not clear that studies that measure eye gaze show that, because rich people tend to look less at other people around them, this means they don’t care. And 2), even if there are distractions or challenges feeding into this effect for the richer among us, and often to their own detriment by the way, this is nothing that a little awareness could not help heal.

Clients** I work with and people I know who may fit into this class of people care very much about contributing to humanity – at the same time they can look very much like they don’t. There is the wealthy entrepreneur who can easily be taken as singularly profit motivated to those who do not know him well enough to know that his greatest satisfaction and most deeply felt need is the good he does for others, through the business he builds and the product he provides. There is the socially shy philanthropist who gears his wealth toward justice for all. On the surface, each may appear not to care all that much for the people around them. But, this does not mean they don’t care for other people in an even larger way than many of the rest of us are able to afford. They may care about other people differently, but this does not mean they don’t care about other people at all. Maybe they even care more, despite whatever their eye gaze suggests.

This is not to say that there aren’t any rich people who care more about self-aggrandizement than they care about anything or anyone else. But for others, it might be the largeness of the responsibility inherent in their way of contributing to humanity that distracts them into looking like they don’t care. To use a smaller scale example, how many people do we know who are so consumed by providing for their families – so distracted and depleted – that they really do appear to not care about anyone else, when exactly the opposite is true. All of which is to say, careful please with our assumptions about who does and doesn’t care. There is more than meets the eye(gaze) in the mix on this point. Which brings me to our second point.

Social Capital. “Studies indicate that ‘social capital’ is one of the biggest predictors for health, happiness, and longevity.” The idea here is that social capital (friends, family, colleagues, connections, networks…) can have tremendous value, why they call it capital. If we are not mindful, there can be a trade-off between the financial capital amassed for some greater good and the social capital necessary for our own. Here’s the good news. Even the most distracted among us seem capable of slowing down enough to connect a little more once they begin to know and to feel the social deficit inside. People are busy, you may say. Who has time to connect. Except it doesn’t have to take all that much time. Sure, people can join committees, activity clubs, take lessons and the like to enrich their social capital and their health. But good things can happen in no time at all with no more than a simple smile. Smiling is exactly about social connection. That’s what it’s for. So, if you are richer financially than socially, or to increase your social capital regardless of where you stand financially, you can begin with a smile. So let’s say, next time you are at the dinner table, at a meeting, at a party, just walking down the street gazing at your phone or your navel – get out of your head. Look up, make eye contact, and smile. And then, notice how the energy in and around you shifts and uplifts in split second of time. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “Do rich people really not care about anyone?” Greg Hadley, Mcclatchy Washington Bureau. November 1, 2016 http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-11-rich-people.html

**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.

Productivity Upper: Rise and Shine (With The Sun)

rise-and-shine[T]hose who started out each day happy or calm usually stayed that way throughout the day…people who started the day in a terrible mood didn’t really climb out of it, and felt even worse by the end of the day.…Most importantly, we discovered strong performance effects when it came to quality of work and productivity…Employees who were in a negative mood tended to take more frequent breaks from their duties to cope with the stress and get themselves through the day. These small breaks piled up, leading to a greater than 10% loss of productivity.” *

Life is a series of days strung together. How each day goes has a lot to do with how each day starts. And, how each day starts has everything to do with how we wake up. I’m saying WOW because who even thinks about waking up? We think a lot about going to sleep. In fact, sometimes we think so much about going to sleep – that we can’t sleep at all. For more on this, see Arianna Huffington’s recent book on sleep, but not so much on waking up.

The National Institutes of Health tells us to wake up with care. Not any old time, not any old way is the best time or way to wake up. If you set an alarm that goes off in the dark, you risk getting up in the wrong part of your sleep cycle, which can make you feel no good for anything for the rest of the day. The recommendation is, therefore, to wake up with some sun, “which energizes and orients us in remarkable ways that science is just beginning to understand.”  If natural sunlight is not an option for you, no worries; you can treat yourself to a wake-up light, to gradually bring yourself into a room filled with morning light. Lately, I’ve begun to drop the shade from the top before going to sleep so the room fills with sun to help me gradually wake up, and a bit earlier than I otherwise might. It’s true what they say about how much better that feels.

Clients** typically report how much better they feel – and how much better they do in their lives – when they start to wake up with the sun. There is something about being in the world before it gets crazy noisy, something that nourishes them into a happier, more productive space for the rest of the day. Some have enjoyed Hal Elrod’s Morning Miracle on how to transform your mental, emotional, spiritual, physical life – before 8am.

Some are reaping the benefits of a 5-minute mindfulness exercise I give them, The Breathing Room, to start their day. Even simpler: Begin to notice the thought with which you awaken each morning. If it is less than inspiring, replace it, graft onto it a more constructive and uplifting intention to set you up for the day, day after day, for the rest of your life. Take control of your mornings. Take control of your life. Give yourself a Good Morning every morning. 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 Morning Mood Affects Your Whole Workday. Nancy Rothbard. https://hbr.org/2016/07/how-your-morning-mood-affects-your-whole-workday

**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.


Happy Now: App and All!

happynow “Unlike other animals, human beings spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them, contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or will never happen at all. Indeed, “stimulus-independent thought” or “mind wandering” appears to be the brain’s default mode of operation…Although this ability is a remarkable evolutionary achievement that allows people to learn, reason, and plan, it may have an emotional cost.”*

Human minds wander all over the place – to plan, to reason, to learn – and to be able to hit the ground running anytime. It’s like a car with motor running all the time so, instead of fumbling around trying to find our keys, we can just get in and go. In Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, neuroscientist Robert Zapolsky tells us that’s what zebras do. They just do what they have to do. Fight, flight, freeze. Boom. Done. On to the next activity.

Not us. We do so much ruminating about the past and worrying about the future, that we are hardly if ever in the present moment of our lives, where all the happiness resides. Says who? Says ancient philosophy and religion, and its modern day progeny, Mindfulness, which may be defined as:

…a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.**

Take Tracy.** Tracy, who came to me unhappy in work and love, realized quickly how little of her focus and attention she was investing in either her relationship or her work. Tracy spent most of her ‘mind’ on the past, trying to figure out what was wrong with her, or in the future trying to figure out who to be, what to do, where to go if she could ever get out of the now. Since she had convinced herself that nothing in her present would bring her pleasure, it took practice for her to be able to bring her attention to the moment she was in, to see if there was anything to this idea that now is where our true happiness is found. No surprise to me, as a mindfulness teacher and practitioner myself, Tracy found that actually living in her own life, connecting to it moment by moment, enriched her experience, lifted her darkness, and brought happiness her to life. All because she took charge of her attention, and put it where it belonged more often than not – in the here and now.

But don’t take my word for it. You can try this yourself. And, guess what, there’s an App! Go here for the “Track Your Happiness” App and, if you like, to participate in Killingworth’s and Gilbert’s Happiness study at Harvard.* So far, they are finding that we are out of the present moment almost as much as we are in it, and that ‘out of it’ typically bums us out. If an App is not your thing, you can keep a log, let’s say every hour on the hour noticing and jotting down what you are doing, whether you are focused on it, and what kind of mood you are in. Do this at work and at home, and anywhere else you may roam. Then, on the premise that increasing happiness feels good and is good for you, you can use this information to guide your attention toward that end. And finally, if you find you are having troubling directing to your attention to where you think it belongs, you can try mindfulness meditation (App for this too), which builds brain fitness for that. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind. Killingsworth, M and Gilbert, D. November 12, 2010, VOL 330 SCIENCE

**Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/mindfulness

***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.

Other People Matter: Ask ‘The People Walker’

people-matter“[P]sychologists have shown…better health and lower burnout….determined to a large extent by our social relationships in the workplace—and, more particularly, the social groups we form there.“*

Good relationships are good for our health; while loneliness kills and costs, as a public health hazard draining our health care dollars. Being alone per se is not the problem. And being with other people is not always the cure – we’ve all heard the expression “Being lonely in a crowded room.” Loneliness is more a feeling of being left out. We humans are hardwired to suffer greatly from this, emotionally and physiologically, because in the environment of evolutionary adaption, when our social brains were formed, being left out could mean being ‘left for dead’. Ever wonder why you felt so bad when you didn’t get invited to that party or that meeting. Maybe you didn’t even really want to go, and still you felt bad.

Enter the The People Walker, Chuck McCarthy – who walks human beings for $7 per mile. Mr. McCarthy’s service has been so well received that he has hired more people walkers to help out, and the idea has already spread to Israel, Britain, and New York. McCarthy says there are numbers of reasons why someone might hire a people walker:

“Need motivation to walk?” they ask from lamp posts. “Scared to walk alone at night? Don’t like walking alone at all? Don’t want people to see you walking alone and just assume you have no friends? Don’t like listening to music or podcasts but can’t walk alone in silence, forced to face thoughts of the unknown future, or your own insignificance in the ever expanding universe?”

I’m seeing a common denominator here. Just as evolutionary psychology would suggest: People may want to be with other people, even a people walker, to feel emotionally and physically SAFE. As our study below suggests*, we may find nourishment and health in our relationships at work. But what if we don’t work, or don’t work in an office, or work in an office more toxic than not. Is there a healthful connection to be found among family or friends? And, if for some reason, like one client who comes to mind,** let’s say you are away from your family and new in town without many friends, then what? Help is on the way.

At a recent professional conference, one speaker presented a finding that a strong mental representation of a supportive other, someone who really cares, can lead to better health and well being. Doesn’t even matter if the person is still alive. It’s the heartfelt thought that counts. So…if you ever find yourself feeling left out or cast aside, connect, connect, connect with someone who cares, real or imagined, to help you feel safe, as part of something larger than yourself. Graft something warm and wonderful onto a lonely moment. This is how people change. Grafting. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* N. K. Steffens, S. A. Haslam, S. C. Schuh, J. Jetten, R. van Dick. A Meta-Analytic Review of Social Identification and Health in Organizational Contexts. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2016; DOI: 10.1177/1088868316656701

**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.

To Be or Not To Be? To Do or Not To Do? Says Who?

do-good“It’s the person’s radical choice about the kind of person they are to be that should help him or her navigate through these various forces that tell us what to do”*

Organizational Politics: Theory and Practice, Practice, Practice… is a training program I first designed and delivered at Harvard Medical School. One of the program’s exercises is the 5 Why’s, credited to Toyota, but dating back to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The idea is that asking “why” after the answer to the first question, and then asking “why” after each subsequent answer, will lead us to a root cause understanding of who we are and why we do what we do – or not. Here below is a case example**

Case Illustration: 5 Why’s and the Sleepy, Grumpy CEO

Q1: Why does it bother me so much that my adversary is not on board?

A1: Because I am wasting so much energy trying to bring him on board.

Q2: Why do I need to stop wasting energy trying to bring him on board?

A2: Because I could use that energy to move the project along. (Now the very grumpy CEO is getting annoyed with what seem like stupid questions but persists.)

Q3: Why do I need to move the project along?

A3: To fulfill the organization’s mission.

Q4: Why do I need to fulfill the organization’s mission?

A4: To make everyone happy, even though I know that’s not possible.

Q5: Why do you need to make everyone happy?

A5: So I can feel like a good person.

Time after time, person after person, regardless of age and gender, no matter how high up the organizational ladder – the answers were the same. Everyone wanted to be, to feel, and to be seen as a good person. According to Aristotle, the ultimate aim of human behavior is happiness. From an evolutionary perspective, a 6th question on why people want to feel like good people may very well reveal that our goodness makes us feel happy. As we have seen in earlier posts, from an evolutionary perspective, reputation counts. We reap what we sow, and so on.

But, but, but… Guidelines for goodness are not always clear. So many of my clients** are searching for these guidelines outside of themselves, only to finding conflicting opinions, none of which feel authentic. And, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that whatever is not authentic stands little chance of making us feel good about ourselves in any way that sticks. Others find the whole thing so arbitrary as to give up the search altogether, in a rules-don’t-apply-to-me kind of way. These, it seems are the saddest of all, the ones so jaded they don’t even try.

But for those who do try and are still searching for guidelines beyond the ones already familiar to them, where can they turn? Who says what good is? Our article today* suggests that the consideration of others should be our guiding light. But then, using the examples of Fred Astaire and Steve Jobs, the article goes on to ask whether those who spend their time bringing their genius to others, compared with those who spend their time in more direct charity to others, stack up as morally good. So, murky as it may be, if we want to be and do good and, in so doing, experience the happiness this brings; where can we find our answers and guidelines. In his essay on Self Reliance, Emerson provides:

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

That ‘light which flashes across his mind’ is, of course, inside ourselves. To thine own self be true. If only we can quiet the mind enough to detect these truths. You know what to do. Quiet the chaos. Quiet the noise. Fall still and breathe. In through the nose. Out through the nose. Belly out on the in breath. Belly in on the out breath. And listen for the sounds and sights of your own guidance on how to be and do good. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* Book considers the extent morality should have over people’s lives. September 27, 2016 by George Diepenbrock, http://phys.org/news/2016-09-extent-morality-people.html#jCp

**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.


It’s All About Attention (& Happiness): Yours!

attention“What’s it take to become happy very quickly without dramatically changing your life…? The key to happiness really comes down to one word: Attention.” *

“What are you going to do to make yourself happy today?” Years ago, someone who cared about me very much asked me that question. I remember thinking then what an interesting concept it was that there was something to do about my sadness that could and should be done by me. I doubt he meant that I should get control of my attention to make myself happy. Again, this was a long time ago before mindfulness became as mainstream in America as it is now, and certainly before I started practicing and teaching it myself.

Even now, though, we know that there is a time and a place for happiness. So, for example, the full-blown mourning of a major loss may not be the right time to expend one’s precious energy trying to cheer oneself up. Mourning is a process to be respected, and trying to resist one’s sorrow can impact this process in ways that only complicate and extend it.

That said, more generally, there are significant benefits to happiness in love, work productivity, creativity, health and longevity. And there is more of it to be had by each of us than many of us may think. It’s not like happiness is a pie, so if one person takes a piece there is less for another. Au contraire. Happiness multiplies. You smile and the whole world smiles with you. Well, maybe not the whole world, but more of it because that’s how we humans are built: to smile when you smile, to laugh when you laugh, even to yawn when you yawn. The simple act of smiling can thereby make us feel happier than we otherwise might. So can gratitude; so can giving; so can tracking your mood/activities to get a better idea of which activities in your life actually make you feel bad or good; so can slowing down to smell the roses* – which brings us to ATTENTION.

People are often unhappy with their lives until they realize that the reason they are so unhappy is because they are not even in their own lives.** Their attention is elsewhere. You know how that is. Maybe you just read a few pages and, if asked what you read, you would flunk the test. Or, while driving, you got where you were going and could not remember a thing about how that happened. It is not possible to enjoy our lives if we are not in our lives because a wandering mind has taken us somewhere else, in some past regret or future worry, too much of the time. Some experts say to bring the attention back to something present positive, but people sometimes find that approach a little contrived. Last thing they want is to feel like, or to look like, they are living in La La Land. So, I’m saying something else, which is to notice when the attention wanders and bring it back to the present, positive or not. This taking charge of the attention is fitness for the brain, shown to produce changes in the brain and corresponding beneficial emotional effects. But that’s not all.

Being in charge of the placement of our attention (focus) strengthens our self-control. And numbers of studies show a strong link between happiness and self-control. So there we have it, all the many ways that taking charge of our attention can make a happy difference in our lives. Just about everyone can do this, i.e., to get good at noticing that the mind has wandered and, each time we notice, to gently bring it back. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*Eric Barker, “Why Attention Might Be The Key To Happiness,” http://theweek.com/articles/554899/why-attention-might-key-happiness

**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.


Cooperation w/o Calculation. Good for You. Good for your Rep.

CooperationWe often help others without weighing the costs and benefits…. People even risk their own lives for a stranger, acting without considering the danger. This presents an evolutionary puzzle, because such uncalculating cooperation seems to ignore self-interest. So why do people help others without calculating, even when doing so might come at a great cost?”*

Why do people help others for nothing in return? The answer is: It’s not for nothing. For one big thing, unselfish regard for others, altruism, is not 100% unselfish, when we consider that it helped perpetuate our species, with the mother/infant relationship being a primary example of that. Here and now – in work, play, love, and life – giving without expectation of return makes us look good and who doesn’t want that? ‘I’ll scratch your back. It’s fine; you don’t have to scratch mine. In fact, I hope you don’t because it’ll make me look really good if I give you something for nothing in return.’ This is exactly what the North American Indian Potlatch is about. The potlatch is an over the top gift-giving feast arranged precisely for the purpose of making the party giver look good. S/he who gives the most wins the most status and best reputation. Evolutionary psychology tells us that those with the best reps have the best access to resources and the most power to divvy them up. Big part of why we see people snuggling up to high status others. If we can’t be one, it’s good to be in good favor of one, and I suppose we could say that’s a form of cooperation too. In fact, we may be altogether more wired for cooperation than we may think.

According to the Yerkes National Primate Research Center studies, chimps picked cooperation over competition 5 times as much, which they suggest is the way it is for humans too. Other scientists have even discovered a “generosity” part of our brain, the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, which was seen to activate when people were learning to help others. And get this: Turns out the gray matter in the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex is significantly smaller in people who are depressed. Wait…could that be why we hear so frequently that giving to others is a great way to cheer yourself up?

Trouble is that sometimes we think too immediate and too small to give unselfishly because fairness matters too. There is even a part of the brain, the striatum, found to be associated with fairness. So we do calculate sometimes, tit for tatting, to make sure we are getting our due, to make sure things feel fair. But then, there goes our opportunity to experience and express cooperation without calculation, and all the benefits to self and others that go along with that.

What to do? Well, setting one’s mind to do more good for others, without expectation of return, could show us how good that feels, encouraging us to do more. On the other hand, making oneself do it to feel good can feel calculating in and of itself. But, for many people** there are times when, without forcing themselves at all, there has been an urge to do a kindness for another that was met with a strong and swift “Why should I?” inside their head. The answer to “Why should I?” is that it does no good for anyone to be hoarding goodness, if we are doing too much of that too much of the time. So, especially when the urge to do good for another comes up naturally, we may express this part of our humanity, simply saying to ourselves, “Oh, there goes ‘why should I’ again,” taming it to move forward in kindness instead. We may even begin with something as simple as extending a heartfelt smile. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “Reputation improves for those who give without calculation,” http://phys.org/news/2016-07-reputation.html

**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.

Is There Something to Be Done Here? What to Do About Emotion.

emotion“…why do most people spend so much time working and doing housework when they could be engaging in leisure activities? And, perhaps more importantly, why do other people struggle to maintain steady employment and clean living conditions? The answers have a profound impact on the mental and physical health of individuals, as well as our survival as a species.” *

A smartphone application helped researchers track the moods and activities of 30,000 people. What they found was that people in good moods were more likely to do useful but not necessarily pleasant activities (e.g., housework, other work) within a few hours of reporting their mood, while people in bad moods were more likely to engage in a pleasant leisure activity (e.g., sports, hanging out with friends). The suggestion here is that people use activity to regulate their emotions – and that when people feel good they are thinking more about future well-being, while the more bummed out among us do things to feel better now.

Couple of things here. First, not everyone goes out to play when they feel crummy. Lots of folks I know** prefer to lay low. Well, okay. Maybe they aren’t exactly doing housework or work-work when they take a mental health day at home. Maybe some are, as the study suggests, doing a pleasant leisure activity because they feel bad and want to feel better; e.g., binge-watching HBO, with a big bowl of ice cream or chips close at hand. Yes indeed, there is a study to show that we eat healthier when we feel good than when we do not. Although, maybe you think we didn’t exactly need a study to tell us that.

And does anyone else see a chicken/egg issue here? What if the activity chosen to deal with the bad mood is contributing to the bad mood in the first place. That can happen. Avoiding work, due to work stress, can make the work suffer, feeding the stress associated with it, leading to more avoidance, more stress, and more feeling bad. Same for any kind of binging to dull emotional pain. So, for example, people who binge eat typically feel very bad after an episode of binging, leading them to binge eat all the more. Solutions that create problems can run in the happy direction too. I have heard it said that, because happy people give more, it is not a good idea to negotiate when you are flying high emotionally because you might give away the store.

All of this makes it not that hard to understand why so many people try to make the emotions just go away. But then they feel dreadfully empty inside, something I hear over and over again. And decision-making gets really hard when we don’t know what we feel about the thing we are trying to decide. Now, it’s true, our responses to emotions can make a mess of things, if we are not paying attention. So let’s just slow down, pay attention – and ask this question: Is there something to be done here that will make me feel good in both the short and long term?

Sometimes the answer is ‘Yes but not right now’, or ‘Yes but not by me’. And sometimes you have already done what needs to be done, or there never was anything for you to do at all – in which case the answer might be to do nothing but breathe. Three luxurious breaths. Belly out on the in-breath. Belly in on the out-breath. And if you don’t know the answer to the question, then experiment. Try something and keep an eye on the consequences, to use or correct for next time around. The emotions are our friends. They provide information to guide and enrich our lives, once we learn to put our responses to them under our more conscious control. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* Maxime Taquet et al. “Hedonism and the choice of everyday activities.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1519998113

**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.

Raise Your EQ: Eat Your Fiction

Eat Your Fiction“The most important characteristic of being human is that our lives are social,” says Oatley. “What’s distinctive about humans is that we make social arrangements with other people—with friends, with lovers, with children [with coworkers]….Fiction can augment and help us understand our social experience.” *

I have heard this before and was glad to see an actual study in support of this idea that fiction supersedes non-fiction for enhancing emotional intelligence. Truth be told, I have always been a bit of a snob about non-fiction over fiction, wondering what there was to learn if the stuff wasn’t even true. But now I take in fiction, not just to raise my EQ (emotional intelligence or empathy quotient) but because stories feel good.

Click here for a beautiful piece in Science Magazine on ancient campfires and storytelling. We talked before about the human love of landscapes and food sharing as reminiscent of our earliest days on the Savannah. Storytelling can be reminiscent of our earliest days as humans too – storytelling to expand the mind after a hard day of physical work, and to improve social bonds and relations or, in short, to enhance EQ.

To this day, there are pretty significant benefits to enhancing EQ. EQ is the ability to read, understand, and use the emotions effectively. Paula Durlofsky, PhD tells us that people with well-developed EQs can “communicate better, reduce their anxiety and stress, defuse conflicts, improve relationships, empathize with others, and effectively overcome life’s challenges.”

That sounds good but what do we mean by “use” the emotions? Use them for what? A lot of people I work with don’t want to go anywhere near them, fearing that to let them in at all is to face an overwhelming tsunami of useless emotion from which they may never recover. Emotions have had such a bad rap that my clients** and I spend large swaths of our work unraveling this mistaken idea. Once we do, miracles can happen, because emotions are information that tell us where we want or need to go in our lives.

The one who is understandably furious about race in America discovers the depths of his rage; unleashing this rage in doses he can tolerate allows him to channel the emotion – to use the emotion – in highly constructive ways for himself and so many others. The ones who are filled with shame about childhood behaviors bring the shame to the fore, informing them of the huge part this shame has played in shaping their lives, information directing them toward far less punishing, more joyful, and productive lives going forward. The single ones who let in how envious they are of the married ones move away from the already taken, opening themselves to the possibility of partners with whom they really can love and be loved. The ones who use their heads so much that they cannot feel their hearts begin to come alive in connection with themselves and others – in work, play, love and life – at the least little feeling, doesn’t even matter what it’s about.

They always want to know, all of them, if they are the only ones struggling with emotion, trying not to feel what they feel, trying with all their might not to be who they, as human beings, really are. Of course, they are not the only ones and fiction can tell them so. Jane Eyre. Anna Karenina. You name it. And doesn’t even have to be an 800 page classic:

“What’s a piece of fiction, what’s a novel, what’s [a] short story, what’s a play or movie or television series? It’s a piece of consciousness being passed from mind to mind. When you’re reading or watching a drama, you’re taking in a piece of consciousness that you make your own….That seems an exciting idea.”*

And it can be, but doesn’t have to be, just you. Join a book club. Or a movie club. It’s always interesting to hear other people’s differing interpretations of the exact same thing. Read their minds. See if you are right. Make it a game. Sharpen your EQ and improve your life. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Oatley, K.: “Fiction: Simulation of Social Worlds,” http://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences/fulltext/S1364-6613(16)30070-5 , DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2016.06.002

**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.


Food Friending in Work and Love

Food friending“How do you build rapport with a new employer or someone on a first date? It turns out that there may be a simple strategy that’s often overlooked: eat the same food as your companion.”*

Who among us hasn’t heard that food is love and eating together is good for us…mind, body, and soul. So, for example, students in families who eat together are generally less obese, are less prone to drug abuse, are less truant in school, get better grades, and feel closer to parents. But we are not talking about just eating together. Here we are talking about eating the same thing together – just as our ancestors did in the environment of evolutionary adaptation, way back when the big brain, aka The Social Brain, was formed to help us cope with the growing complexity of our social systems. Through food sharing of a single carcass we learned together about cooperation, fairness, and trust over who got what, and how we would resolve our conflicts over who got what. And, there we sat around the fire, eating together, telling stories, bonding in community to keep us safe and warm.

In last week’s post we looked at the human love of landscapes, some would say due to their reminiscence of our early days on the Savannah. Here we see University of Chicago researchers* suggesting a beneficial effect with eating behavior (eating the same thing together), possibly reminiscent of those earlier, formative days as well. That is, study participants eating like-foods reached negotiated agreements quicker than pairs who did not eat like foods, and participants who ate similar foods gave more money to individuals with whom they were paired, contrasted with participants who were paired but ate dissimilar foods.

A story told by one woman I know comes to mind. We will call her Mary.** Mary loved lamb chops. Her mother did not make them too often, both because her mother did not like to cook and because her family did not have the means to buy too many lamb chops too often. Mary grew up remembering her brother as quicker and somehow more entitled to take as many lamb chops as he liked, always getting more. One day, as adults, her brother said, “I remember that you never liked the lamb chops so there was always more for me.” Mary was stunned to learn, not only how wrong they had both been in their perceptions, but what an opportunity for this little family – to talk, to learn, to grow, to love, to build trust, to cooperate and bond together – had been right there on the plate before them – but missed.

In the workplace, “People tend to think that they use logic to make decisions, and they are largely unaware that food preferences can influence their thinking,” says Ayelet Fishbach, a professor in the business school at the University of Chicago. “On a very basic level, food can be used strategically to help people work together and build trust.”*

Some suggestions from the researchers for the workplace include limiting food choices at group luncheons to encourage eating similar foods, or purposely ordering food similar to the other at a business lunch. Can you think of others? Other ways in love and work to build trust and cooperation, maybe to heal wounds, to resolve conflicts, to remind us of our humanity, to build bridges…with food. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “A recipe for friendship: Similar food” July 8, 2016 http://phys.org/news/2016-07-recipe-friendship-similar-food.html. This study will appear in the January, 2017 issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

**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.

Great Listening: Not Just Sponging

ListeningPeople’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills, in that the great bulk of adults think they’re above average….While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines….They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.”*

Who ever thought listening was supposed to be fun? What could be fun about either being a sponge or being with a sponge? More like something boring we are supposed to do to be a good person – and deep down we pretty much all want to be (at least seen as) a good person. Still, as motivational speaker Steven Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply,” possibly, probably, to make the thing feel like a more interesting, less deadly, use of our time. And then we tell ourselves we listened. Good for us. Unless we really did listen, and then it really was good for the other and good for us. Good chance it was even fun.

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman* did a study of 3,492 participants to identify the differences between great and average listeners. To summarize a bit here:

Four Main Findings

1.     Good listening is more than one person talks, the other doesn’t. It is a dialog. Those who were considered the best listeners in the study would listen quietly but then also periodically ask questions to help the speaker challenge old assumptions, indicating as well that the speaker really has been heard.

2.     Good listening creates an open, safe environment that helps build self-esteem, in a way that just sitting there like a sponge or, worse, being critical, does not.

3.     Good listening is cooperative and conversational rather than a debate during which the listener is gathering information to further his/her own point or agenda.

4.     Good listening includes good feedback and suggestions, which the authors surmised held true more when the other features of good listening were present, so it did not feel as if the listener was just jumping in with his/her own urge to solve a problem.

We see from this study that there can be a lot more action to great listening than we may have thought. But not always. The authors are clear that not all conversations require the highest levels of listening. Sometimes the speaker just wants to vent, and really does want you to just sit there like a sponge, if that’s okay for you. You may even find it relaxing to know that quiet, compassionate listening is all that is needed from you at that time. But sometimes the listener is simply not in the mood, maybe antsy about other things.

So, let’s add to their great piece on great listeners something for the speaker that comes up in my practice a lot – and that is that people are often enough reluctant to ask for the kind of ear they need when they need it. One client** wants dearly to be understood by a man she is considering marrying someday, but is reluctant to speak her concern to him because she believes he may judge rather than understand. The awareness of her self-judgment in the mix brings her closer to being able to speak with him more often about a variety of matters. He can’t be a great listener if no one is talking and, in this case, great listening may be simply an acknowledgement that he heard and understood, absent any what to do’s for which she has not asked.

Now, what if we made it a natural, habitual part of our communications (in work, play, love, life) to ask for what is needed from a particular conversation at the outset of that conversation. When our listeners have a chance to actually consider whether they are in the right space to provide what is needed, all kinds of unsatisfying encounters could be prevented before they even begin. Something to try. Something to practice. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*”What Great Listeners Actually Do,” Zenger and Folkman, July 14, 2016https://hbr.org/2016/07/what-great-listeners-actually-do

**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.



Mind/Body Upper: 30 Minutes in a Park!

Dogs“People who visit parks for 30 minutes or more each week are much less likely to have high blood pressure or poor mental health than those who don’t, according to new research by Australian and UK environmental scientists….parks offered health benefits including reduced risks of developing heart disease, stress, anxiety and depression. ‘If everyone visited their local parks for half an hour each week there would be seven per cent fewer cases of depression and nine percent fewer cases of high blood pressure’.”

Picture worth 1000 words? Look at them, those happy, healthy, shiny dogs. Who wouldn’t like to be feeling that good, doing such good work, teamwork, and having that much fun? They love nature and so do we, whether we know it or not. Why is that? Why do humans, in general, love landscapes as much as we do? Some say it’s because landscapes remind us deeply of the lush habitat of the savanna – the favorable environment in which the biggest part of our evolutionary brain development is said to have taken place. And, even if it’s not exactly news that green is good, the specificity of this particular recommendation, the 30 minutes per week, just 30 minutes, really is…great news.

And what perfect timing too! You can become a Parkie in celebration of the National Park Service’s 100th birthday, coming up August 25, 2016. Right after the passing of my 91-year-old mom in February of this year, pretty much on impulse I went to Zion National Park, where I could actually see and feel the sun. Mom always loved big, yellow happy faces, always had one hanging on her front door. I hadn’t anticipated how close to her I would feel as I breathed in the fresh air and gazed up at the gigantic, gorgeous sun. Somehow I knew without exactly knowing that I needed to be in a park with a great big sun. Same as when I downsized from Cambridge, MA to DC. In retrospect, I can see that it mattered less how small the space might be as long as there would be green. Green is not an easy requirement to meet in DC but there it is right outside my windows in the only property I would even consider. Again, without exactly knowing I knew how important it would be for me to see green.

Wait, you may say, what if you have other plans/responsibilities and can’t exactly get yourself to a national park. And, what if you don’t happen to have green outside your window, nor even a park nearby. Even if you did have a park nearby, first you’d have to get to the park and then you’d have to get home, and that all takes time. Who has that kind of time? You do, we all do because if we can’t get to the park, well then we can just bring the park to us. Plants. Yes, plants help us de-stress, and the Huffington Post even tells us exactly which plants to get.

But maybe you travel or don’t have the right exposure for plants. Ok then, did you know that “Fireplace For Your Home” offers gorgeous greenery with a running brook, sound and all, which can be accessed on YouTube and Netflix. The funny thing about the brain is that, as smart as it is, it can’t always tell the difference between what’s real or imagined. So, for example, when Harvard psychology professor, Ellen Langer, told hotel maids that their work was physical exercise their health measures improved, relative to health measures of the hotel maids who thought they were just cleaning rooms. There were similar health benefits for seniors whom Langer instructed to imagine, and live for a period of time as if they had gone back in time and were much younger again.

So, if you can’t get to a park, you can just use your imagination. You can bring to mind a time and place of green. You may even want to make it part of a meditation. Breathing in through the nose, out through the nose, each time the mind wanders bringing the mind back to your beautiful green. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “Dose of nature is just what the doctor ordered” June 23, 2016 http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-06-dose-nature-doctor.html

**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.


Can We Change? Yes We Can!

Change“The beliefs, assumptions, expectations that you’ve gotten from your friends, family, culture — those things, Mischel explains, are the filter through which you see the world. Your mind stands between who you are, your personality and whatever situation you are in. It interprets the world around it, and how it feels about what it sees. And so when the stuff inside the mind changes, the person changes.”*

That’s it folks. That simple. All you have to do is change your mind. To quote again from the article, “People can use their wonderful brains to think differently about situations….To reframe them. To reconstruct them. To even reconstruct themselves.” Back in the day the idea was that personalities were stable. Once a cheater. Always a cheater. Once a hothead. Always a hothead. This despite psychologist Walter Mischel’s findings to the contrary. Walter Mischel is the marshmallow guy, who told children in his studies that they could have one marshmallow, but if they could wait a bit they could have two. Then he tracked the kids’ lives, over 40 years, and found that the kids who could wait were more successful in life on a variety of measures than the ones who couldn’t. The subtitle of his book is Why Self-Control is the Engine of Success.

But Mischel laments that this has been taken by many to mean that personality is set at an early age, stable over time, unable to change. Not what he thinks because what appears to have gotten lost in the mix was how flexible and situational ‘who we are’ really can be. So, for example, the kids who were told to just pretend the marshmallow wasn’t really there were able to hold off and get two marshmallows, just by this simple change of the situation and trick of the mind. This is what we mean by reframing the situation, changing the mind, changing ourselves. There was a 1928 study putting kids in a situation where they could cheat or steal. This study found that a child who might cheat in math class didn’t cheat in other classes. And how many otherwise sweet, kindhearted mothers do you know who wouldn’t tear the eyes out of someone who threatened to hurt her baby. Nothing set here. Situation matters a lot.

So what about you? Have you ever noticed how different you can be in different situations? Of course, you are not going to behave exactly the same in a job interview as you do with your friends at happy hour, are you? Different situation. Or how about with different people? Over and over again I notice that, as my clients** begin to ease up and enjoy themselves more, they begin to want to spend more time with other people for whom happier, healthier, more productive is the norm. No one tells them to do this, exactly. It just happens. Somehow they figure out, maybe because they have felt themselves changing, that we humans are not so set in stone; that to a greater extent than they knew they were who they were with. There is a great book on this: Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do.

But now that we are on the subject, why wait for it to just happen. Why not make it happen. Start wherever you like. Start big or small. Change something about a situation, or the people in it – or simply how you think about it without actually changing anything else at all. Begin to notice where, when, and with whom you are your very best you. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*Source: NPR http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/06/24/481859662/invisibilia-is-your-personality-fixed-or-can-you-change-who-you-are?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20160626&utm_campaign=bestofnpr&utm_term=nprnews

**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.