The Exerciser: Think Exercise Think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

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

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

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







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

In Love: Play Together, Stay Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202 617-0821

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

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

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



After LOVE; Let Us PLAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Conger, Christen, How Breakups Work. conger

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

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

Play is Not the Opposite of Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202- 617-0821

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

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

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

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



Let’s Play. Here’s Why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202- 617-0821

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

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

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


Judge Much? Too Much?

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

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

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

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

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

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

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

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

BFF: Not So Fast & Why You Care

Most of us think that friendship is a two-way street — but that’s true only half the time….If researchers can understand this limitation, companies and social groups that depend on social influence for collective action, information dissemination and product promotion could improve their strategies and interventions.*

These researchers found that reciprocal friendships have more sway than money over us and our behavior. That’s right, not everything is about money. Trouble is that, although 95% of participants considered their friendships reciprocal, this matching study found that only about 50% of these relationships actually were. This reminds me of something called “Illusory Superiority,” which means that we all pretty much think we are better than we are (better drivers, better looking, better friends?…) because not a lot of people give us authentic feedback, and it helps with our mental health to just go along with the self-delusions.

Maybe you already knew this, hard as you may have tried not to. After all, how can we hit 5,000 on Facebook if we get picky about things like quality and depth of relationship? The more the merrier some would say. Only deep down where it counts, it isn’t really merrier to fill ones life with so-called friends who aren’t really that at all. No matter how much we may try to reassure ourselves that we are not alone, and that we matter, good chance amassing friends who matter to you more than you matter to them just won’t do it.

Here’s the good news that I notice with my clients.** Many of these high functioning men and women begin our work together with some sense that something is just not right. What we find, again and again, is that people are trying with all their might not to feel what they feel, in a way that creates the very disconnect and void they are trying hopelessly to fill. You’ve heard of lonely in a crowded room. And, yes it is terribly lonely to be disconnected from ourselves, driving us to seek out whatever crumbs we can find to fill us up and make us feel okay, even if there is no end to it because it just doesn’t do it. And then they figure out that befriending the self with whatever feelings may arise this kind of self-respect and acceptance brings a feeling of worthiness that makes them want more than crumbs. A pruning process begins that results in real friends, true friends who care. It is a beautiful thing to watch.

So, if you care to, you may take an inventory to see how many of your ‘friendships’ provide that nourishing reciprocity rather than being the kind of relationship that can make us feel rejected, unworthy, and empty inside. Too many of the latter? Clear indication that it is time to become a more caring, connected, respectful friend to yourself. When unwanted feelings arise, rather than heaping rejection upon ourselves, we may greet them as worthy and welcomed parts of ourselves. What we resist persists. Better to let the feelings come, ask ourselves if there is something to be done, and let the feelings go like clouds in the sky. There is a wonderful Rumi poem, called “The Guest House,” that might help. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

*Abdullah Almaatouq, Laura Radaelli, Alex Pentland, Erez Shmueli. Are You Your Friends’ Friend? Poor Perception of Friendship Ties Limits the Ability to Promote Behavioral Change. PLOS ONE, 2016; 11 (3): e0151588 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151588

**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.





Why Do You Care? “Stupid” Social Pain Explained

Our ancestors lived in small, cooperative social groups that lived by hunting and gathering. In this world, your life depended on others valuing you enough to give you and your children food, protection and care. The more you are valued by the individuals with whom you livethe more weight they will put on your welfare in making decisions. You will be helped more and harmed less.*

Remember that party you didn’t get invited to. You didn’t even want to go. Still you felt bad that you got left out. Or the meeting you weren’t invited to or the memo you didn’t get. Even when you had better things to do you didn’t exactly love being left out. Maybe you told yourself you didn’t care but somewhere inside of you – you did. Maybe you told yourself you were being “stupid” or someone who loved you told you the whole thing was “stupid,” just trying to help. S/he meant well. Doesn’t matter. We are all wired up inside to pay attention to who’s in and who’s out, as if our very survival depended on it, which our internal response system thinks it does even if in reality it does not.

This is why bullying hurts as much as it does. Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you. Only they do because on some level they are perceived as a threat to social standing. No small thing inside the hardwired brain – and why you care when you feel you have been treated rudely no matter how much you or anyone else tells you that you should not. And no small thing when we have behaved badly ourselves, especially if we are not the only one who knows about it. Then we might feel shame.

The authors of the study below suggest that shame guides us to direct or redirect our behavior consistent with the values of the community whose respect and care we need. That’s why people care about looking good. For example, it is not at all uncommon for someone to stay in a relationship too long for anyone’s good because it would ‘look bad’ to their friends and family to break up now. What about successful women who may hide their good looks to ward off disrespect or envy. One more: You worked hard, turned the assignment in, they said thanks, and not much more. Where is the love? And why do you care?**

To repeat, “the more you are valued by the individuals with whom you live…the more weight they will put on your welfare in making decisions. You will be helped more and harmed less. So now what? For a happy, healthy, productive life; two things: 1) Behave as well as you can consistent with the norms and values of the culture in which you live and work; and 2) Sometimes there is nothing that you can, will, or should do about the disrespectful behavior of another toward or around you – and yet you can’t make it stop. In this case, gather your clan. Remember that the bottom line threat in the first place is that you will lose the care and protection of your people. Reality test this to see that you have not. They may or may not have anything helpful to actually say. They may even tell you they think you are being “stupid.” Like “Why do you care?” which makes you feel worse. But they love you and they are there. Bring this to mind often. Use it when you need it. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, call or write at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

*John Tooby in “Study shows shame allows humans to anticipate social devaluation and adjust intensity of defensive response” February 23, 2016

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

Copyright © 2016. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

Make a Face and Let it Work

From Face Reading to Right Action in No Time At All.

When I wish to find out how wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how wicked is any one, or what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression. (Edgar Allan Poe, The Purloined Letter, pp. 215–216).

These Edgar Allen Poe words introduce and summarize the publication of a recent study on emotional contagion via the face*. How did Poe know in the 1800’s that the face tells and can be mimicked in ways that can be really useful to us all? Now we know that face reading is 1) natural, automatic, unconscious (unless you are Poe and have made it a conscious strategic endeavor); and 2) that it takes only a few hundred milliseconds to read a face unless there is an impairment, e.g., nerve damage from a face job, or some with autism for whom eye contact may be a challenge. But for those who can, when we put someone else’s face on our own face, we also trigger our own experiences, memories, and associations (neural pathways) with that face and, in so doing, get good emotional information on what action to take. Sad face: Kind words, a hug? Wicked face: Run the other way? Happy face: Smile and the world smiles with you!

So…someone else’s emotions can be a facially transmitted contagious condition, for better and for worse. But it is neither the face nor the emotions to blame for the worse. Often enough, I find myself discussing with anyone who will listen, including but not limited to my clients**, that emotions are neither good nor bad. Behavior might be unbecoming, unskillful, or worse. But emotions are innocent. They didn’t do anything. You did…which could have been prevented if you had only paused long enough to breathe (belly out on the in-breath, belly in on the out-breath, 3 luxurious breaths, in through the nose, out through the nose) to kick it up to the higher brain and turn the whole thing around.

Disney’s 2015 movie, “Inside Out” powerfully, beautifully, poignantly persuades us of the proper place of emotions in all of our lives. So does Rumi, in his poem “The Guest House,” when he tells us to welcome and be grateful for our emotions for they are our guides. And finally, for the moment, there is the famous (Psychology 101) Phineas Gage who, after taking a spike in the head that impaired his emotion/cognition connection, was still very smart but social judgment and decision-making impaired.

Of course, to get the emotional goods from a face – and then the behavior that leads to a happier, healthier, productive life to follow – first we have to actually read the face instead of the text on our phone. This means we have to put down the phone, pick up our head, and make old fashioned, face-to-face human contact. Try this. You can do it. Yes you can. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, call or write at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

*Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Wood et al.: “Fashioning the Face: Sensorimotor Simulation Contributes to Facial Expression Recognition”

**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 © 2016. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

Adrenaline Rushing

From Anxiety to Excitement in Work, Play, Love, Life…

Have you ever paid to be afraid? Unless you’ve never been to an amusement park, actually you have. Malcolm Burt researched why people around the world ride roller coasters, to the tune of $12 billion a year in the US alone, in some part due, he believes, to a human need to connect more with our more primal selves. Framing things in evolutionary terms appeals to me too. So what is it about sensation seeking that may have helped us to survive and to thrive? One narrative would be that we are the children (ancestors) of the earliest humans who could deal best with high levels of risk, the children of people who could ward off predators and find food under the most extremely hostile conditions. Those endowed with a natural tendency to take these risks, those who could best tolerate the anxiety associated with a heart pounding adrenaline rush, would have been the ones to find food, to survive, to have sex and make babies, who then had babies, and so on until here we all are.

We are all endowed to respond to potential danger: Car coming; get out of the way. In this case, flight instead of fight or freeze. Good choice most folks would make. Anxiety is a state of alert, when the adrenaline is rushing, that helps us to be ready for action. For situations less clear-cut than a car coming, let’s say public speaking, there are marked differences among us. The movie “The Walk,” about the man who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers, is an amazing example of someone with a thirst for adrenaline rushes of gigantic proportions. I, on the other hand, could barely tolerate the anxiety I felt as I watched him cross the line, even knowing full well he would survive. Many people,* without even realizing it, actually have more anxiety about the feelings themselves, than whatever the actual thing is that is causing the feelings. Some people worry that they feel too much. “If I ever let myself cry, I may never stop.” Here the anxiety is that if they allow themselves to feel what they feel they will be too overwhelmed with feeling to go to work, to take care of their children, to function at all. Other people worry that they’ve done such a good job of not feeling that they are unable to feel what they want to feel when and with whom they want to feel it. Here the concern is with an inability to love and be loved, and to feel much if any of life’s excitement and joy.

There is a fine line between anxiety and excitement. Rats in the lab need some excitement so they don’t go mad and eat each other, and you know how dull and confining life can be for us when we play it too safe, too much of the time. But you can push that envelope, little by little and see that you can. You can open yourself to your feelings by asking yourself, “What do I feel and where in my body do I feel it?” And you can do this in small enough doses to get used to things over time – to help you cross that line between anxiety and excitement one small step at a time. Sure, you can take an amusement park ride. Or you can say Yes to work, play, love, and life. Yes to that new case or project at work, the one you worried you might fail. Once we know there is no feeling we can’t handle – we may not like it but we can handle it – nothing to fear but fear itself. Now you can say Yes to submitting the chapters you wrote, the dinner party you wanted to throw, that trip you wanted to take, that new project at work…Yes to the risk of that enticing new relationship or to something new and novel in the relationship you have. Bring it on. Yes you can in as big or small a dose as you like. What do you feel and where do you feel it? Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, call or write at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

“Video: Adrenaline junkie researcher discovers why we need roller coasters” January 14, 2016

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

Copyright © 2016. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.