Monthly Archives: March 2013

Day 90: How I got back to sleep last night (featuring selling and sound effects)

Good morning!

Even though I often wake up feeling uneasy, this morning I woke up feeling pretty centered, relaxed, and optimistic.

I woke up in the  middle of the night, too.  (I’ve posted about mid-night awakenings and other sleep challenges,  like here, here, and here).  And I came up with some ideas, after waking up,  about how to get back to sleep.  I liked those ideas, to the extent that I thought, “I’d like to blog about that tomorrow.”

(Hmmmm.  It’s a weekend blog; therefore, I feel a digression coming on.  And what I would LOVE, right now, is  a sound effect for digression.  How about a quick day-dream-y harp?)

Digression about Selling

I’m STM (Smiling to Myself) right now, because I’ve noticed that the first few paragraphs of this post sound like I might be trying to sell you something. The language reminds me of the beginnings of advertising pitches: “I USED to have THIS PROBLEM. And then, I TRIED THIS.”

And just yesterday, I wrote about selling, fears about being taken advantage of, and how that can screw up  interpersonal connection.

But let’s face it, I try to sell people things, too.  We all do, don’t we?  Passing on advice or ideas is a kind of selling, even though the focus of giving advice (and of this blog) is not generating money.  Here’s a definition of “selling”, from the Free Dictionary:

1. To exchange or deliver for money or its equivalent.

2. To offer for sale, as for one’s business or livelihood: The partners sell textiles.

3. To give up or surrender in exchange for a price or reward: sell one’s soul to the devil.

4. To be purchased in (a certain quantity); achieve sales of: a book that sold a million copies.

5. a. To bring about or encourage sales of; promote: Good publicity sold the product. b. To cause to be accepted; advocate successfully: We sold the proposal to the school committee.

6. To persuade (another) to recognize the worth or desirability of something: They sold me on the idea.

I’m focusing on that last definition, which fits best.

As much as I think of myself as a Person Who Does Not Like To Give Advice (even though I’m a therapist!), I do like to persuade people — especially if it’s about something valuable I’ve learned.  So even if I do lose my investment  in the results of my persuasion — whether it actually helps somebody or not —   it’s still a kind of selling (according to Definition #6).

I mean, geesh!  Even linking to another blog post (as I have, several times, in this post) is an attempt at persuading you. When I link like that, I am essentially saying, “This is something else you might find helpful.”

So, in conclusion, Ladies and Gentleman of the Blog-o-Sphere, I am selling, too (according to Definition #6), even if it’s just Something That Might Help.

(Okay, now I want a sound effect to indicate the end of a digression, and a return to the point before the digression.)  (How about a gong?)

End of Digression About Selling

So here’s what helped me last night, when I woke up in the middle of the night.

I asked myself these questions (and gave brief responses!):

(1)  Is anything worrying you?

(2) If there is, what is it?

(3) Is it really something to worry about? That is, might you be safer than you think?

(4) Is it something that could be attended to right now?

(5) If so, could you do something quickly, as a next step?

(6) If not, could you make a quick note about it?

I didn’t have a pad of paper by my bed (or my cell phone) to make a note (which seemed like an important part of the process to me). Nevertheless, I got back to sleep pretty quickly.

And I woke up feeling pretty centered, relaxed, and optimistic.

That’s the data, folks.

I’m going to put my cell phone within reach tonight, before I go to sleep, and try this (one weird trick) again.

Thanks for reading!

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Day 89: Is somebody trying to sell me something?

(Note: This post was inspired by recent encounters with people — in the Blog-o-Sphere and elsewhere — who seem to be selling something.)

Is somebody trying to sell me something?  The answer to this question — no matter when I’m asking it — is undoubtably “Yes.”

Somebody  IS trying to sell me (and you) something, at any particular moment.

Why?  Because people have to survive, economically.  They have to make money.  And in order to make money, they have to sell something.

So when people are interacting with each other, sometimes $$$ is a major factor.  And that affects the communication, doesn’t it?

How could it not?

How important is it that we figure out HOW MUCH that is affecting the interaction?

It can feel very important to me.

If I am not aware of how money — the attempt to sell — is an aspect of an interaction, I might be taken advantage of. I might misinterpret what is happening in the communication.  I might assume I’m being seen in some way other than this:


When I  start with a different assumption — a belief that an interaction is based on a non-monetary wish to connect — and then realize that money is at the heart of the transaction,  I can feel naive, like a fool.

I might feel the DTOS (Dreaded Thud of Shame).


Then, I might start asking questions like, “Who can I trust?”

The answer might become extreme:


That’s not just a visual quote from the “X-Files.”  It’s also some serious  All-Or-Nothing Thinking (yep, another cognitive distortion):

All-or-Nothing thinking (also known as “Black-and-White thinking”).
Things are either all good or all bad, people are either perfect or failures, something new will either fix everything or be worthless. There is no middle ground; we place people and situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray, or allowing for complexities.  Watch out for absolute words like “always”, “never,” “totally,” etc. as indications of this kind of distortion.

It’s not helpful for me to think about trusting other people in all-or-nothing terms, or in any kind of extreme or rigid way.

It’s not  helpful for me to be less trusting, just because selling IS everywhere.  So what if  most of the e-mails, snail mails, and messages surrounding me ARE trying to sell me something? That doesn’t have to seep into my general experience of connection in the world.

Sometimes,  all the selling out there — and my  fears about my ability to accurately see and negotiate that —  can affect my experience of relationships.  I can become hyper-aware of people’s self-interest, and even wonder how much room there is for anything else.

But focusing on self-interest in relationships is  a distortion, too.  Self-interest is there, of course.  It has to be.  But there is  ALSO room for empathy, connection, and all the other human emotions and impulses that exist besides self-interest.


So if I start to think that I am

  • naive
  • too trusting
  • in danger of being taken advantage of, or
  • in need of putting my guard up  (including with people I know)

it’s time to back off on those All or Nothing thoughts about trust.

It’s also time to back off from labels like “naive.” Hey!  I’m actually not naive.  I may make mistakes. Who doesn’t?  I’d have to be a mind reader to know people’s intentions, all the time.   Labeling myself as “naive” or “too trusting” ignores and downplays my experience — what I’ve learned in negotiating interpersonal issues in the past.

And, really, I’ve done all right so far.  I’ve managed to retain — in  the face of all those people selling things out there —  what I need, to keep going (like the computer I’m typing this post on, for example).

And  if somebody does “rip me off” in some way in the future, I’ll learn from that and survive it, probably quite nicely.

All those things are helpful to remember.  Very helpful.

THE CLOSE* (one more time)

So the answer to the question


is not an all-or-nothing one.  It’s neither “everybody” nor “no one.”

Trust, like most things, can vary. I can choose how much I trust and whom, and adjust that based on new and changing information.  And, I probably have more personal power in any interaction — involving $$$ or not — than I  may think.

Ta da!

Thanks for reading (and for trusting, in some degree or another).


*  A sales term for wrapping up and ending.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Day 88: Asking questions

I know I’ve written a previous post on how much I love asking questions and hearing answers.  I guess that’s a good quality for me to have, considering that I’ve ended up (after several career twists and turns) as a group and individual therapist.

Other people have noticed this quality of mine.   An old partner of mine used to quote a “Saturday Night Live” skit, in reference to me.  I can’t find it on YouTube, but here’s what I remember about it. A guy and a woman are out on a first date, and she is peppering him with questions.  At some point, he (I think it was Chevy Chase, so it’s  REALLY OLD SNL) says to her (trying to disguise some annoyance):

“You’re so ……. inquisitive.”

A Jackie Chan Digression 

In the 1990s, some friends and I  got into Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong movies. They are SO great, BTW, and very different from his American movies.

Here’s a YouTube link to an 80’s TV show, “Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show,” with Jonathan Ross, centering on Jackie, which gives you some idea of what those movies are like:

Jonathan Ross show about Jackie Chan

My friends and I  REALLY enjoyed watching those movies.  I’m talking Obsession, for some of us.    And it was not easy to see these films, because Jackie was not famous in the U.S. then, and his films were not that available. (It was much less of an Instant Gratification Media World  in the 90’s.)   But the Brattle Cinema, in Cambridge


would periodically  run festivals of these amazing Hong Kong-made Jackie Chan films, like “Project A,” “Project A Part II,” “Police Story,”  “Police Story 2,” “City Hunter,” “Dragons Forever,”  “Drunken Master,” “Super Cop”, and more.

At my birthday party earlier this year, where people shared stories and memories, several of the stories were about how much fun people had going to these Brattle Cinema festivals. We remembered how each of us had Dragon Names, which we had chosen for ourselves.

I shall now briefly explain “Dragon Name”:

Jackie Chan’s Chinese name (his “stage name” essentially) is


where the first character means “adult” or “developing” or “mature” and the second character means “dragon.” (Bruce Lee’s Chinese Name was “Little Dragon.”)   So the members of this Jackie Chan-loving group of mine chose Dragon Names for themselves, which included  (1)  A descriptive adjective + (2)  The word “Dragon.”

The Point of The Jackie Chan Digression

My dragon name was “The Inquisitive Dragon.”

So, inquisitiveness — asking questions —  is definitely a quality of mine. This is observed by others and valued by me.

However, some questions are easier for me to ask than others.

What are the easier ones?  Questions that reflect my curiosity and interest in other people.

Which questions are harder to ask?

  • Questions where there is a “power differential.”  For example, asking management at work for something. Or, when I’m a patient, asking doctors questions, which are sometimes challenging. (I’ve worked really hard at the latter, my whole life, and I’m pretty good at it.) (I hear that from my doctors, actually.)
  • Questions where I might hurt somebody’s feelings.
  • Questions where I am asking for something I need.
  • Questions where I am revealing that I don’t know something.

That last one in the list is rather ironic, isn’t it?  Because what would be a better reason than to ask a question, than to learn something you don’t know?

However, I have to say that I do see other people, around me, hesitating to ask questions, perhaps for fear that it will reveal something They Think They Should Know Already.

I can only speak for myself. And I do know that I sometimes hesitate to ask questions out of fear — the fear of being seen as ignorant, stupid,or  not listening.

Before I end this post, I feel obliged to point out that those fears involve the Cognitive Distortions of Mind Reading,  Labeling, and Shoulds.

Why did I write this post today?

I realized there were some questions I was afraid to ask at work today. I need the answers, in order to do my job better.

I am now going out there, dear reader, and I’m going to Just Do It!  (Just like Jackie Chan says, many times, in that TV show.)

How about you?

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Day 87: Fame, Fortune, and “The Ceiling”

(This post is dedicated to my friends, whom I appreciate, very much.)

In my blog post yesterday I wrote about people reading and not reading my blog.  My focus, in writing that, was letting go of some unhelpful thoughts, most of which involved the Cognitive Distortion of Mind Reading.  (Example of mind reading, “People who aren’t reading my blog think I suck!”)

And that has been my focus, lately, to let go of unhelpful thoughts. I do that work with other people (in my job as a therapist)  and I do that work with myself.

Digression about Why This Blog? including Why the Title?

That is The Main Reason I started this blog and committed to writing in it, daily for a year —  to practice and learn about letting go of unhelpful thoughts, which usually involve self-judgment (like assuming that people’s thoughts about you are negative).   That’s why I chose the title of this blog.    And the title is somewhat ironic, because it’s a goal, not an expectation. I mean, I don’t expect that I will ever NOT have judgmental thoughts.  I just want to get better at recognizing them and letting go of them.  I’m human.  Cognitive distortions are human.  That’s why I don’t like the word “distortions.”  Humans aren’t distorted, so how can our thinking be called distorted?  Although, I do like the word “distortion” in this context:  cognitive distortions are (usually) not true.  They just feel like the truth.

The End

So, returning to where I was … my blog post of yesterday.  I got some interesting responses (here and elsewhere), including (1) people letting me know that they are faithful readers and (2) people focusing on my increasing my readership.  When I first read those comments, I thought, “Hmmmm.  That really wasn’t the point of my blog post.”

Or was it?

My intent in writing that blog post may have been letting go of unhelpful thoughts. However, whenever we put a communication out there, people will receive it in their own ways.  And what people receive often has to do with (1) their own stuff AND (2) other stuff that was there in the original message.  And I DO have thoughts about who is reading and increasing readership (and not all those thoughts are unhelpful, distorted ones).

Man, that paragraph was almost a long digression about Communication in General, but I pulled it back.  However,  I feel another digression coming on (cue the digression music, which sounds a lot like regular flashback music):

Digression about Digressions

Phew!  These Thursday morning posts are more digressive, naturally, because I always think I have more time (because I’m scheduled to go in late on Thursdays) (although I sometimes go in earlier than scheduled, because there is usually an interesting lecture to attend).  So I tend to luxuriate in writing a Thursday-morning post. (I guess I like settling in to a nice, cushion-y digression or two, if I have the time.)

The End (or IS it ?)

Maybe I should write these “luxurious” blog posts using a non-linear format.  Perhaps I should look into using a flow chart, using arrows labeled, “If you want to follow the original point”, so people can make their way through them more easily.

Okay, this is the point where I imagine my linearly-minded readers getting annoyed.  That’s Mind Reading, on my part, but here’s the deal: sometimes when we mind read, we’re right (about some people).

Oh, man.  I may never get to my intent in writing this blog post today, which I stated in the title — “Fame Fortune, and ‘The Ceiling’.”


Elsewhere in this blog, I’ve speculated that when I DO digress, it’s because I’m avoiding getting to the topic I’ve set as a goal.  Maybe I’m avoiding this one because there’s some pain associated with it.

That would be a good guess, actually.

Let me cut to the chase and explain the title.

I have a ceiling for myself about how much fame and fortune I will attain in this world.  It’s related to what I Think I Deserve.

And it’s complicated, because I honestly don’t want to focus on attaining fame and fortune. I KNOW that is NOT the path I want. When I let go of (unavoidable) wishes to move towards those things, I am much happier, much more fulfilled, much more directed to my real values (which include authenticity, soul-deep work, and The Golden Rule — treating others the way I would like to be treated).

But I live in this world,  and those material values are pervasive here, aren’t they?  And some fame and some fortune can be fun, in a way — as long as they don’t guide my path.

But I’ve got baggage about my worthiness for those kinds of rewards (and I’m assuming I’m not alone in that).

Here’s one of my personal stories about Fame and The Ceiling:

Getting on Game Shows

by Ann

I love puzzles, word play, and trivia, and I’m good at those. And I’ve won some contests, using those skills. And I’ve used those skills, at times, in some pursuit of Fame and Fortune.

I tried out for a quiz show that used to be on the old Game Show Network, in the 90’s, called “Inquizition.”  That show had in-studio contestants and phone contestants. I tried out to be a phone contestant, made it, and won (against three other people, and a prize of about $250) (it was The Game Show Network, people). Then, I was invited to return — as a phone contestant, again — and compete with three other previous winners. I won again (with three times the cash, I think).

Then, I tried out for the game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”  And, I almost got on.  I was verrrry close.  Twice.  Both times, I didn’t make it, in ways that (1) made excellent stories and (2) were quite painful for me, at the time.

I’m not telling THOSE stories today.  Too long.  Probably still a little painful.

The disappointment of NOT appearing on a TV show becomes much more painful —  if there are  underlying beliefs/fears that I DO NOT DESERVE to be recognized, beyond a certain ceiling.

I’m not sure if I want fame, actually, but that’s not really my point right now.  What I’m focusing on  is that Sense of Self-Worth — That question:  How much do I deserve?

And I’m focusing on that because I think THAT’S what’s behind most Cognitive Distortions.  Thoughts like these:

I am not worthy enough. I do not deserve this.  

Those thoughts are The Mother Lode of all the other distorted thoughts.   They are the Core thoughts about our basic worth.  And when they’re negative, they’re very, very painful.

They  can distort our thinking, our vision, our hopes. Big time.

The Wish to Become Famous Through Appearing On A Game Show is not as powerful a wish for me these days. I know that, because I actually tried out for one — a NPR radio show —  last week. And I’m pretty sure I didn’t make it. And while that’s generated a twinge or two, and a stray thought like this:

I knew I wouldn’t get it!  Even though I had moments where I thought, “I deserve to be on this show as much as anybody else,”  that’s obviously not true.

I let go of those thoughts, really quickly. They barely lingered.

But they lingered enough to come up during this blog post. And who knows?  Perhaps if I hadn’t tried out for that game show, I wouldn’t be writing this post now.

That wish for fame — which may not be attached to being on a game show, now —  DOES still exist in me. It can free-float, attaching itself to other things. Like this blog, for example.

A few friends have said this to me, “I think your blog post is going to get picked up somehow, like with that woman in ‘Julie and Julia.'”

I have very wonderful friends.

Did I have a reaction to my friends saying things like that?  Sure.  I got a little thrill.  Every time. That’s s a fun thing to consider.  It is!  It’s recognition. Validation.  Big Time.  Fame and Fortune!  (And I’m guessing some other bloggers reading this have had a similar fantasy. How could they not?)

But I’m not letting the reactions to my blog — no matter how big or small —  guide me.  I’m letting go of my investment in that outcome. Not obsessively. Not puritanically. Just because letting go of investments in outcomes, in general, works well for me. And also, focusing on how people react to this blog can obscure my original intent.

But here’s what I really what I want to say this morning, before I leave for work. This is the punchline.   The end of the flowchart.

I am worthy and deserving, exactly how I am, right now, no matter what. 

No matter how much recognition I receive. No matter who reads this blog post. No matter what it generates in the universe. No matter whether I get on a game show, or not. No matter what I  do. No matter what I achieve —  Fame, Fortune, or Variations Thereof.

Try using that sentence, in italics above,  dear reader, and see what happens. It may seem like a  cliche, it may be gloopy ….  but it helps.

It’s acceptance of exactly where you are.

Thanks for being there.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Day 86: Dear Readers, Non-Readers, and Everybody In Between

I was trying to decide on a topic for my blog post today, and I was having a conversation about that with my bf. (BTW, I’m AAA  — Ambivalent About Abbreviations —  but I prefer “bf” to “boyfriend.”) In the course of that conversation, I asked him if he had been reading this blog lately.  He said he hadn’t read any posts recently.

And there are other people in my life who rarely read these posts.

I have to admit to you, dear reader, that who reads this blog, how frequently or infrequently, does have an effect on me.

I work on losing my investment in the outcome of readership.  And I can often do that.

BUT ….

At the same time (probably like other bloggers), I also have this fantasy of people waiting for every post and DEVOURING EVERY WORD.

And I do have some readers who actually come close to fulfilling that fantasy of mine. And I feel incredibly lucky and flattered about that.

But, here’s the deal.  The NOT reading feels more powerful — more important — than the reading.

The Negative sticks. It can seem more powerful than the positive.

During the first month of this Year of Blogging Daily, I considered writing a post titled “My Boyfriend Doesn’t Read My Blog.” I thought that was a catchy title. (And I was also wondering how long it would take him to see it.)

I didn’t write the post, though, because the title was … not true.  He does read it.  Sometimes he reads several days in a row.

But look at how I re-cast that  balanced story in my head, to accentuate the negative. I made it all-or-nothing:  “My boyfriend doesn’t read my blog.”

Because the negative is more powerful.

When people aren’t reading my blog posts,  here are some negative thoughts that can rush in:

They don’t like my writing!  If I was a better writer, they would be reading more frequently!

And if The Somebody Who Is Not Reading is somebody close to me,  those negative thoughts aren’t just rushing in, they’re carrying extra luggage:

The people who know me best don’t find me interesting.


If people really cared about me, they would want to read my blog.


Those negative thoughts all involve the cognitive distortion of mind reading.  So, to challenge that, I need to go to the experts on that experience — the experience of not always reading my blog.

Those people who are close to me tell the story differently. And when I let that story in (instead of my fear-based, self-judgmental story), I hear things like this:

Those posts are good, they’re well-written, but you know what?  I’d rather hear those thoughts from you in person.

I like that story better. I hope I can remember it (especially when those pesky, matched-luggage-carrying thoughts are trying to rush in).

Thanks for reading (whenever you do).

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Day 85: You’ll figure it out

Here’s another helpful phrase I’ve been using lately.

You’ll figure it out.

I say it to myself, when I’m learning something new.

You’ll figure it out.

When I’m stuck in confusion.

You’ll figure it out.

When I’m anxious about making the “right” decision.

You’ll figure it out.

When I’m overwhelmed.

You’ll figure it out.

When I’m thinking about the future.

You’ll figure it out.

This phrase helps, because it reminds me that

  • everything is a process
  •  I may predict the future, but I can’t know it
  • I am doing the best I can, with what I have, in the moment
  • I am constantly learning
  • I will make mistakes
  • I have figured things out before
  • it’s important for me to lose my investment in the outcome.

I use this with other people, gently, if I think it fits where they are.

Try it, dear reader, if you think it might help you.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Day 84: Spring

Spring is my favorite season.  I love watching things come to life again.

All winter, I yearn for color. When the trees start flowering, I want to look and look.  The pinks, lavenders, whites, and salmons of those flowering trees seem like silent fireworks to me, bursting everywhere.

They’re not out yet, but they’re coming.  I see the buds.


It’s officially spring, but — in New England — that’s only a promise of things to come.  It’s still cold. The snow is on the ground.

But, I saw another sign of Spring last week:


If the corn dog cart has arrived at Fenway Park, can the flowering trees be far behind?

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Day 83: Managing Expectations

Here are some random thoughts about managing expectations — a RHP (Really Happening Lesson)* for me these days.

Managing expectations helps reduce anxiety. 

I’m starting with this thought, because it’s the one that’s most relevant to me, in the moment.

That is, I would like to manage your expectations, dear reader, about this blog post.  That would help reduce my anxiety about writing it.

(I would also like to add, right here, that Managing Expectations does MORE than help reduce anxiety. It helps out in many interpersonal interactions — at work, with family, socially, etc.)


This morning, for me,  managing expectations does not involve making excuses or apologies for the limits of the post.

Yay!  I’m so glad to be able to write that today, since I know there have been previous posts where I HAVE had the urge to apologize, in advance, for what I was about to write. (And I hear people doing that — apologizing up front for what they are about to say.)

So that’s tres cool, I think, that I’m in a secure enough place, this morning, to NOT feel the need to do that.

However, I would like to manage your expectations about how long I am going to take to write this post, as follows:

I will be taking approximately 20 minutes to write this post. After that, I will be meeting an old friend for brunch and for a walk. I would like to publish before I leave, and then edit afterwards only to correct mistakes and clarify possible miscommunications.

Whoa!  Just one second.  I just realized something.

I am not just managing YOUR expectations by explaining the limit of how long I have to write this blog post.

I’m managing mine, too!

Managing expectations involves setting limits.

What I did, above in the italics, was set limits,  which helps me.  That is, by saying that I will take 20 minutes to write this, and then go out, into the Life-o-sphere* — to connect with somebody and then take a walk (two types of Personal Medicine, for me) — I am setting a frame for what kind of post this will be.  

Because I have limited time, I am now telling myself  that l will NOT do the following:

  • anything too fancy or time-consuming (like looking up outside references or taking time to define terms).
  • connect to too many links, unless it’s really easy (e.g., past blog posts).
  • start a list that I then need to fill out, unless it feels manageable.
  • try to be perfect or even close to perfect in what I write.

(Of course, I just told YOU what I would NOT be doing, and that helps, too.)

Here are some things that I CAN do, however:

  • write a good enough post
  • maybe even introduce a short-cut, time-saving solution to my urge to define terms or give more info (like using asterisks within the text).

And that is THE key to managing expectations, dear reader.

Manage expectations by stating clearly what you can do AND what you cannot do.

Tell yourself what you can and cannot do, and also communicate it to others, as clearly as you can.


Earlier this morning, my friend — whom I’m meeting for brunch — called me to tell me that she was running late.  She explained how she had woken later than she expected and had to talk to somebody on the phone, unexpectedly.  She called to manage my expectations. She estimated that she would be 15 minutes later than we had originally planned.

But I suspected something, based on my own experience.

I said to her, “Would you like to make it a half-hour later?”

I heard an intake of breath.  She said, “Actually, that would be helpful.”

And I thought, of course.  Which leads me to my final thought for managing expectations, today:

Try not to over-promise.

I see this a lot (in myself and others).  People over-promise for lots of reasons  (including guilt, fear, the wish to please, assuming you know what the other person wants, and so on).

So watch out for this, please. And consider readjusting your promises, by checking out assumptions (e.g., my friend may have thought about me, “she wants to meet me as early as possible!”)

It’s time for me to go.  Thanks for reading, as always.


*  New terms, I just made up, perhaps to be explored in future blog posts.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Day 82: The Equal Time Rule

Years ago, I made up a “rule” for myself, to deal with my (human) tendency to focus on the negatives. If you’re like me in this way (and most people I meet seem to be), you automatically zero in on whatever isn’t “right” — possible sources of future trouble, critical comments, negative people, the “fly in the ointment,” mistakes, and so on.

As I’ve written in this blog before, this makes sense, purely from a survival standpoint. If there’s danger out there, it’s helpful for our bodies and minds to focus on that.  If everything else is idyllic and safe, but there’s a potentially dangerous creature strolling by, that’s going to get all of our (and our ancient ancestors’) attention.

But this survival instinct can screw us up. It can cause us to over-emphasize the negative while dismissing the positive — reducing our joy, interfering with connections to others, and promoting worry and regret.

Several Cognitive Distortions (listed here), relate to that, including:

Negative filtering (also known as “Disqualifying the positive”).
This is when we focus on the negative, and filter out all positive aspects of a situation.  For example, you get a good review at work with one critical comment, and the criticism becomes the focus, with the positive feedback fading or forgotten. You dismiss positives by explaining them away — for example, responding to a compliment with the thought, “They were just being nice.”


Magnifying or Minimizing.
We exaggerate the importance of some things (our mistakes, a critical reaction, somebody else’s achievements, things we haven’t done). Also, we inappropriately shrink the magnitude of  other things  (for example, our good qualities, compliments, what we have accomplished, or someone else’s imperfections).


We come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, you expect it to happen over and over again. Example: seeing one incident of rejection as part of a never-ending pattern of defeat and failure.


So where’s the friggin’ rule, Ann?

 Yes, I started out this post promising a rule I made up, to help deal with overemphasizing the negative.  I put this rule in my list of  remedies  for cognitive distortions, and here it is:

The Equal Time Rule.  To be fair, why not balance out the time spent on negative thoughts with positive thoughts?  For example, if you spend a certain amount of time worrying or catastrophizing about something that then turns out okay, consider spending that much time feeling good about the outcome. Or, if you are focusing on a negative, critical person and worrying about how they might affect you, try to give equal time and power to a positive, supportive person.

Okay, time for an example!

Several posts this year have mentioned my dread of working on my income taxes (like here and here).

(I don’t know why I freak out, so much, about doing my taxes each year.  I have a lot of self-knowledge and insight, or so I’m told, but I still don’t understand THAT, which I could probably explore in a ridiculously long post and/or another year of therapy).  (But not now.)

Here is my yearly To Do List about taxes:

February 15. Start worrying about and dreading working on your taxes.Don’t actually do anything, but definitely beat yourself up about (1) procrastinating and (2) worrying so much about this, which is dopey and really getting old.   Make sure you compare yourself to other people who have (1) completed their taxes and/or (2) aren’t as weird as you about worrying about this.  Schedule a few weekends when you’re definitely going to work on this, but then don’t. Make sure to feel guilty about scheduling and then not following through.  Try not to tell people how weird you are about this, but if you do tell people, make sure to feel dopey about that.

March 15. Continue doing all of the above, but more frequently and intensely. Note the amount of time you’ve wasted feeling bad about this and ask yourself questions like, “Why do you do this every year?”  Decide that this year, you’ve gone further than you usually do in procrastinating;  feel  bad and somewhat panicky about that. Notice that the worrying about taxes is getting in the way of your anticipating the arrival of your favorite season — Spring! Feel REALLY bad about that.

The End of March:  Always get done what you need to, somehow.

(Note that I’ve left something out here:  my frequent uses of remedies and antidotes to help myself feel better during this process.) (Again, I’m overemphasizing the negative and minimizing the positive, in how I’m telling THIS story.)  (Eeeek!)


This year, I did the above routine again — as usual,  starting around February 15.

AND, as usual,  I finished the routine this past week. That is,  I’m done with my preparation (and dread) about taxes for this year.

If I were to use my made-up Equal Time Rule, I would spend as much time and intensity feeling GOOD about completing my taxes as I did feeling bad about NOT doing them.  That means I would spend more than a month, from now on, feeling relieved and great.

Will I do it?  Nah. Not even close, people.

But I LOVE that idea.  And by having that rule, even if I don’t keep it, I invite myself to feel as good as I possibly can for as long as I can possibly can.

Because it’s only fair, right?

Thanks for reading.


© 2013  Ann Koplow      (for my Equal Time Rule)

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Day 81: An Appreciation Trip

I have the privilege of doing work that I truly love: being a group therapist.

As usual, in this moment, I am very conscious of language, as I attempt to communicate with others — out there in the blogosphere.

Here are some ways I can describe what I do. I lead groups. I facilitate groups. I do groups. I run groups.

My title? Group leader.  Group facilitator.  Group therapist.

None of this language completely captures what I do, and some of it seems misleading to me — giving me too much power, or otherwise not accurately reflecting my role and my experience in a group.

Digression about Language and Communication

I am focusing on language as I write this because language is sooooo important to me.  I really want to be understood. I really want to communicate, to another person, what is important to me.  I want to do that effectively, recognizing that there are so many reasons and ways that I might be misunderstood. There are so many barriers to people understanding each other.  I experience that every day — in my professional life and in my personal life.

Sometimes I say this when I’m talking about communication:  Each person is so unique — with a  history and a current experience that is so personal, so different from anybody else’s — that it’s amazing that we can understand each other, at all.  It’s like each one of us is our own country, with our own culture, language, and government.  No wonder there are misunderstandings — when two separate countries try to exchange with each other.

Now, I know that may sounds extreme.

And as usual, the opposite is true, too — sometimes when I communicate with others, or witness communication, I experience people understanding and connecting with each other in amazing ways — understanding each other so profoundly and unexpectedly, no matter what their differences. Then,  people can seem so connected,  it’s like we are almost one entity. (Not like The Borg, though.  Heaven forbid.)

Hmmm.  I was planning on writing about something simple, but instead, I seem to be trying to communicate Things Profound (and even Trippy).

End of Digression

When I lead or run or facilitate or do groups, I sometimes (if I’m lucky!) work with somebody else, often called a co-facilitator or co-leader.

For the groups I do on Thursday evenings, I’ve been lucky enough to have a co-facilitator this year.

But I work at a teaching hospital, so people who work there are often there for limited periods of time.   And it looks like my co-facilitator is leaving in a month or two.

Which I feel sad about, because I really enjoy working with her.

Last night, she couldn’t attend the group.

So this morning, I wrote her an e-mail, letting her know that I missed her last night and  that I’ll miss her if she leaves.

But I hesitated before writing it.


For several reasons:

  • It feels risky to let somebody know that I appreciate them.
  • It feels risky to let somebody know that I am sad, because I’ll miss them.
  • I’m afraid she might have some sort of adverse reaction, like guilt for missing last night’s group.

I recognize those feelings and fears, but my priority is  to let people know when I’m having a positive reaction to them (as I wrote about, here.) So I wrote the e-mail.  The subject for the e-mail was

An appreciation trip, not a guilt trip

And I let her know about how she was missed at group last night, as well as my feelings about the possibility of her leaving.

It felt like the next right thing to do. Or more simply, it felt right.  And as I wrote that e-mail subject, I thought, “That’s my topic for today’s blog.”

Which is now done.

Thanks for reading, everybody.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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