Sunday, December 15, 2013

Why I'm happy to be called The Resistance Whisperer

Monty Roberts is my hero.
When someone at one of my WriteSpeak retreats in 2009 called me the Resistance Whisperer I loved it and I knew there was truth in it. I learned everything I know about resistance the same way Monty Roberts learned what really goes on with horses: I watched for a very long time, with complete attention and deep respect. I trusted 'what is' and not what my culture told me 'should be.'

He knew horses didn't need to be 'broken,' and proved he was right. I know that overcoming resistance has nothing to do with will power and I prove I'm right every time I run a Resistance Workshop.

History of Resistance Workshops done on the telephone.

It all began with a plan to do one telephone workshop on July 20. (I had August set aside to write the proposal for my next book.) But the people who were supposed to be running it used some kind of new recording devices, and didn't expect over 150 people to pour in, and the result was a fine disaster the night of July 20, 2013. No telephone workshop.

Whoever contacted me got rain checks and was asked to do their best to get refunds, and if they couldn't, they'd get the teleworkshop for free. Throughout August, I wrote everyone I could find and answered all emails, trying to straighten everything out. Everyone I corresponded with was just terrific. They put in a lot of effort trying to get their refunds but most people never got them. In fact, only 1 person got a refund for sure and I think that was a mistake. (Did you know that paypal doesn't consider any real unless it fits into a box? That's true! That's what they told everyone! No refunds from them.) And the people who didn't deliver the workshop I had promised kept all the money.

You don't spend decades showing that you can be trusted and allow that kind of situation to stand, so even though it ate up all of August (I'm only starting to write my book proposal this week - and that's not an excuse! :-)) I did everything I could to get in touch with the people who had signed up for the original teleworkshop. However the people who kept the money also kept the mailing list, so I had no way of knowing who had signed up.

But you know what? I'm actually glad it happened. I got to know a lot of great people. It was more satisfying than I could have expected. 

 I wrote and answered personally a lot of emails and then, on the last day of August and twice in September, with the deft help of my Hero Techie, Patty Newbold, I ran 3 Telephone Workshops to deliver what I had promised. I think the general consensus was that I delivered what was promised and I got a lot of great emails afterwards. One of these days I'll go find them and put a few right here for you to see. I'm proud of them.

And then I did more Resistance Telephone Workshops
I even did a second round. I didn't want to repeat my lecture - in fact I hoped I wouldn't do a lecture at all, just work with individuals on the phone. I know from emails I get later that lots of people who did no more than quietly listen were feeling emotions as well, and working their way through big blocks right along with those I was talking to.

But I did an opener anyway, mostly about the resistance to happiness and success.

I haven't scheduled more yet, but I will.

Here's how they work:

First we announce the date of the next Resistance Teleclass in a newsletter. If you're not on my mailing list, head over to and you'll see the sign up place on the bottom of the home page.

You can also head over to right now and you'll know whatever you need to know.

Then you sign up and receive your link to the private page for that date. There you'll find the instructions for what number to call, access codes, and a place to ask questions and leave comments. (You can - usually - call in for free from anywhere in the world with Skype.)

On the right date we have our two-hour TeleWorkshop.  If you can't join us, the recording is posted on the same page, usually in less than an hour, and available to you for 90 days.

For about 45 minutes or an hour I talk about Resistance and explain a very different (and waaay better) theory than any other I know of. It's impossible to be modest. Getting this knowledge has taken decades of experience. Learning to distinguish between what sounds good in theory and what actually works, is what matters.

And then, when I'm through with the lecture, we go to work on resistance problems.
That's when the fun begins.  The rest of the 2-hour session is taken up with solving individual problems.

I love it. People have different versions of where and when they resist doing things they long to do. Their stories are fascinating. I ask questions, we talk, and I can hear people in the background quietly responding (occasionally sniffling) because they're getting eye-openers too. I ask for more questions, get great ones, and talk to as many people as I can.

What happens to the people who didn't have time to talk or ask their questions? During or after the teleclass, they head over to that private page and start typing comments, asking their questions (or offering great answers and information to people who had spoken).

Because when a workshop is over, it ain't over.

After we all hang up, I head over to those comments and for the next few days I do my best to answer them.

It's great technology.  When I was your age we had to shout out the window! :-)  (Sorry about that. I couldn't resist.)

I just finished answering the comments from last night a few hours ago and I'm heading back to see if there are any more that just showed up. I want those questions. They remind me to talk about what I might not have included. They help me think even more deeply about new aspects of this huge problem called Resistance. And, like all good questions, they pull new information into the mix from everyone in the group. (Last night Patty told one of the attendees who longed to travel, but couldn't find a good-enough job to pay for her trips, about a totally perfect job that *included* travel (!) she'd learned about years ago. It took the person's breath away, and ours too. She's getting ready to contact the right people today.)

Did I say 'Isolation is the dream killer,' yet?

As far as I'm concerned, that beats the hell out of 'Just try harder,' or 'Build your will power!' or 'Sit down and do it!'

Those things never worked. Even athletes, who may be the hardest working, most 'disciplined' models of 'never stop trying,' have coaches to get them out of bed and on the track. As some anonymous wise person has reminded us, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.

Isolation is the dream killer, folks. Don't do it yourself anymore. Time is not endless and dreams are important.


I have one more Resistance TeleWorkshop planned: January 12 of 2014. You can head over to and check it out.

(After that I really have to get to work on that book proposal.)


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chef wants to go to Asian Orphanage to teach kids to cook

Just looking for a place to send people in the Twitter Idea Party (go to Twitter, search for #ideaparty) to show them that there's only one degree of separation. If you state your wish and your obstacle to enough people, someone will know the right person.

This is Freda. She used to run an orphanage and now has moved to a direct way of helping families in the Himalayas one by one. I sometimes run teleclasses to raise money for her project because she's the real McCoy: no administrative staff, no overhead, just her and her husband working their fingers to the bone. Come to think of it, I wonder if she has someone helping her with her emails? Like this one:

Hi All

Buy some Karma and donate to us today and really make a difference, this is not just some Charity it is a real organisation that works at the SHARP with real people changing real lives.

So many of you know about the work that we do and how difficult it is for us in the area that we work. During the last few weeks our own country has had dreadful incidences that many of us never thought possible. We are rebuilding trust and care in UK. I realise that it is difficult for us to think of others when there is so much going on in our own lives and country. I ask you though to just take a few minutes to THINK about how Hi-Cap UK have improved lives, we need your help to continue to do so.

What could you buy with £2? Not so much as a lipstick or a posh box of chocolates in these recession-laden times. But £2 per month is all that’s needed in the impoverished Himalayan regions of Nepal to lift a woman and her family out of grinding hardship.
You can change a life for the cost of a monthly cappuccino!

Many Himalayan mothers are left to fend for themselves because they have been abandoned by their husbands or he has died, which is very common due to the dangerous manual work undertaken by men in this mountain region. With no education and no health system in place, every day is a struggle for survival.

Regular funding is really important to us it helps us to plan our projects.
Therefore please go to our website where you can download a Standing Order Form which you can complete and give to your bank or it can be set on line.


Even easier and it takes just few minutes to donate by text using:

Text HCAP11 £5 to 70070 to donate to Hi-Cap UK and make a difference today.

Freda Casagrande
Founder and Manager
Hi-Cap UK

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sometimes a chronic problem is really the solution to a worse problem.

You can battle a chronic problem forever, or you can sit down and figure out why it's hanging around and start from there.

On the first morning of one of my Big Cheap Weekend Workshops last year (not in New York, like the one coming up Nov 19 - and it wasn't called a Big Cheap Weekend either but it was the same thing exactly) we had a perfect illustration of that principle. A woman I'll call Hilary stood up and told us how her inability to lose weight was the obstacle to her dearest, most treasured dream. She told us that she had a good voice, that her teachers had all agreed and she knew there was nothing she loved as much as singing; that she did it at home, in private, as often as she could. Nothing made her happier. But taking lessons can only go so far, and Hilary had dodged every chance she'd gotten to actually perform on stage, in front of a live audience. She explained that she couldn't get on the stage unless she looked better, and her attempts to diet had the usual results.

'If I get up on a stage looking like this all I'll be able to think about is how awful I look, and how people must be laughing at me, and I won't be able to sing a note.'

Now there are a lot of reasons people aren't slim, and there might be a lot of reasons they shouldn't be slim. Who knows what's health and what's fashion when advice changes every few years. But the point is she felt she couldn't sing if she didn't lose weight, and she couldn't lose weight. And I didn't want to send her home with the same 'blame the victim' advice she'd clearly gotten from friends and teachers and diet coaches, which was: 'Well, if you want it enough, you'll lose the weight.'

First of all, I don't think that's necessarily true at all. Sometimes when you want something too much, you stop yourself from getting it. Second, I don't like that kind of advice. People too often blame the victim when they feel unable to help her. She said she couldn't seem to lose weight, and I believed her. Instead, here's what I told her.

'Sing fat. Don't lose weight. Give that up. You want to sing, so you have to sing. Book a date wherever someone will let you sing, wear black, look gorgeous above the neck and below the hemline, and get up there and sing your heart out.

'If the weight is protecting you from some danger involved in singing -- maybe going back to your childhood -- and you sing, the weight might give up and just go away and you'll lose it without working at it. And if it doesn't go away, who cares? You're singing!'

What happened then only happens in a workshop. Someone raised his hand and said he had a piano club in a nearby suburb and she was welcome to come sing that night. There were always very good amateur pianists who could accompany her. You could feel the excitement start building in the room.

'I don't have the clothes or the makeup...' she stammered.

Just like every Idea Party in every workshop, when people heard the sincerity of her wish, and the clarity of that particular obstacle, they stepped forward. One woman who lived nearby had a 'shiny' black dress she knew would fit Hilary. A makeup artist stepped forward but didn't have her materials. A glamorous woman standing next to her handed her a bag packed with makeup. One woman held up a spectacular pair of green, glittered shoes and shouted 'What's your shoe size?'

Everyone else wanted the address so they could hear her sing that night after the workshop ended. Rides were set up. She was to sing in 3 hours. (I think if she'd had more time it would have actually been harder -- or she'd have fainted.)

It worked. I couldn't be there but the reports were glowing. She got up on stage, lost her voice for about 5 seconds, ran her hands down her sides and the slippery black dress (which fit perfectly) and started to sing. Her first song was very nice and everyone applauded. Her second, and every one after that, was spectacular. People in the audience were crying.

She wrote us all a few months later in our email group. She said she sings regularly now, and she has lost some weight, but she'll never be as slim as she thought she had to be. And it doesn't make a bit of difference. People love her singing. And she loves to sing.

Try it yourself with any chronic problem. Any sentences that go like this: "If I could only do x, I'd be able to do what I really want to do. But I keep trying and can never do x." This method doesn't always work as well as it did with Hilary, but something good always comes of it. If she'd been on her own and booked a performance date and gotten ready for it, she could have raised her danger level so high that it would reveal itself and she'd have discovered what she was really dealing with.

I once had a client who continually sabotaged her singing career in a different way. She sang professionally, everyone loved working with her and called her in for jobs, but she always stayed just under the radar, never broke through the way she wanted to. Her chronic problem: smoking.

'It's totally crazy that I smoke. I stop when there are no gigs on the horizon, but I start again when I get hired for something!' We discovered it was because her mother, a wonderful singer, stopped singing after a family tragedy that occurred when the client was only 9. Every time the client got close to singing with everything she had inside her, she got terrified and we found she was afraid of feeling the grief of that child she was so long ago. She always dodged the grief by smoking, which hadn't yet hurt her voice, but was her way of not giving her whole self to her performing. But that was when she didn't understand what it was. When she realized it was grief, she let the 9-year old inside her have a real cry. And when the tears stopped, the fear was gone. So was the need to smoke. Her singing career took off big time.

(Her mother started singing again too! But that's another story.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010



I just finished running a 6-day Scanner's retreat for 15 people in a beautiful medieval village in Tarn, not far from Toulouse. (I won't take time to explain what a Scanner is but you'll find photos and explanations at I love running these retreats. The people, the inns, the food (!) are all heavenly. But today I'd like to share one specific thing that invariably comes up, usually by the second day. It's one of the major obstacles that prevents us from turning dreams into reality: memories and expectations of hurtful criticism. No one criticizes dreams at my retreats. We figure out how to make them come true. But hidden in the back of everyone's mind are memories of critics past and the dread of critics waiting at home who could have the power to take our dreams away.

But they don't call me The Resistance Whisperer for nothing. I'm on a mission to save the dreams of every dreamer I meet. Now our good Anne-Claire at My American Market, () a wonderful newsletter from her Toulousian business that gets me my peanut butter fix whenever I need it) is giving me a chance to save some dreamers I haven't met by sharing one of the simple methods you can use to identify and protect yourself from destructive critics, in all their guises.


You just got a fine idea for an internet business, or came up with a really useful invention or wrote a great letter to some editor, and you rushed to share your enthusiasm with someone you know -- only to get the wind knocked out of your sails. Instead of becoming excited, your friend/boss/partner/brother tossed off your idea as worthless, even ridiculous. Or they did something subtle you can't quite put your finger on, but your delight disappeared and was replaced by uncertainty or defensiveness, or both.

You've just brushed up against a critic.

Now the shine is off your idea and you're wondering if it's any good after all or if you're just a moron. What you might not realize is that this might be exactly what the critic wants you to do. Because certain critics -- the destructive ones -- are a special breed. They're not just meanies. They're up to something.

If you're someone who is curious and inquisitive by nature and takes a child-like joy in discoveries, you're often the target of critics. Chances are good that you're far from stupid (curiosity is a sign of intelligence). Maybe you're not an expert, but you have a good eye for something fresh and you love sensing potential. You might even have plenty of experience and knowledge to back up your discovery, but that's not always protection. Destructive critics are on a mission, and they're never stopped by their own ignorance.

All critics aren't destructive. Some are wonderful.
Sometimes you'll come across a genuinely constructive critic, and that's a person you want in your life. These people know what they're talking about and sincerely believe that your idea has flaws. Hearing that a favorite idea is imperfect is never fun, but these people are willing and able to explain what's wrong with your idea and either offer some solutions or point you in the right direction. This kind of critic can save you endless time and keep you from traveling up one blind alley after another. If you find someone like this, you're very lucky. The other name for a constructive critic is 'Mentor.' Constructive criticism is a treasure.

But even the most venomous critic will insist he's only trying to help. And who knows, maybe he's sincere and you're just being too sensitive. So how do you tell the difference?

Stop being the Fallen Hero and turn into Sherlock Holmes.
First, try to drag yourself out of the role of the Unjustly Injured and take a good look at the critic. Ask yourself some questions, like 'How typical is their behavior? What's behind it?' In other words, instead of being hurt or angry and fantasizing about how rotten they'll feel when you win the Nobel Prize, it's time to start scratching your head and wondering why they just did that mean thing. Nothing else will protect you from random slings and arrows of outrageous critics.

But you'll need some special techniques because belittling someone who's enthusiastic isn't in your bag of tricks. You have no idea why anyone would want to be a destructive critic.

Step One: allow yourself to suspect that a destructive critic is up to something.
Criticizing requires no special expertise but it does require a special kind of motivation. When someone like you runs up to a destructive critic with your face full of excitement, the critic gets very cranky. Of course, some recipients of your fine idea are innocent enough; they really just don't 'get it.' But you can tell the difference between the innocents and someone who wants to see the joy leave your face in a minute: the latter are always angry.

But what did you do to deserve anger? You meant no harm. How can you make sense of this?

Step Two: look at yourself with the critic's eyes.
There's no other way to understand what motivates people who return delight with anger except to try to see what they're seeing. There's always a chance you've been insensitive or unaware of their mood when you bounced into their world full of jolly news. Maybe they just lost money in the stock market or kicked their toe against a door, in which case you might owe them an apology. But that's not who we're talking about. The people we're talking about people are typically putdown artists. Now, why would they be offended by your happiness? What is it you're doing wrong?

To find the answer, change the question to this: What do they see when they look at you? If you can imagine yourself in the position of a destructive critic watching you bubbling over with a childlike delight, the answer usually hits you right between the eyes: he won't give you the credit you're hoping for because, plain and simple, he doesn't want to. It has nothing to do with the quality of your idea. It has everything to do with his resentment.

Here's how one encyclopedia defines anger: 'Anger is a feeling related to one's perception of having been offended/wronged and a tendency to undo that wrongdoing by retaliation.' That is to say, you had no way of knowing it, but you just offended someone. But why would it offend anyone to see you enthusiastic? After all, you're not kicking his dog or slashing her tires. What's going on?

Because we pick up subtle clues, we know people better than we realize. You can get some amazing insights with this simple exercise:

Discovering a hidden drama
You're going to write a short dialogue between two people. Pick up a pen and on the top line of a blank sheet of paper write your name and after it, start writing down your discovery. Enjoy yourself. Write about your new great idea as if you were a kid. When you're done, move to the next line and write 'Critic:' See if you can become this angry critic and write down your reaction to the first lines of the drama. Then be yourself again, and answer the critic with your typical defense.

If you can keep up the dialogue for a few rounds you'll start to understand the critic's motives better than you ever imagined you could. More often than not, you'll see that you walked into a drama that has nothing to do with you -- but the critic believes it does. He feels wronged and has you mixed up with the culprit who wronged him. Often the critic is jealous. You might have a hard time believing that, because jealous people see you in a way you never see yourself. Sometimes, the critic wants the attention you're unwittingly demanding when you say 'Look at what I found!!' You might understand the critic's viewpoint in a flash. Or you might never know what set the critic off. All the same, looking for the motive behind the blow a critic dealt you is always useful.

What will all this get you?
Even if you don't figure out what made a critic do a really mean thing, you've shifted the attention to the right place. Instead of feeling uncertain, foolish or injured, noticing the oddness of a critic's behavior means you're acting like someone with very high self-esteem. People who keep their self-esteem continue to value their ideas even if a critic has tried to trash them because they sense the critic's anger and protect themselves. That means that by focusing your attention on what the critic is really doing, you might have just saved a really good idea. Too many quality ideas have been thrown into the trash for no good reason at all, just because their inventor got caught in the sights of a critic.

For that matter, a critic who is mean day after day can actually make you sick if you don't protect yourself. So how do you protect yourself?

Summary and Solution:
Good critic or bad critic, you should try hard to respond in the same way: put aside your sensitivity and try to replace it with curiosity. Instead of 'Ouch!' or 'No fair!' try thinking, 'What is this guy doing? And why?' With that in your mind, you'll be safe when you ask a critic the right questions. They're simple enough: ask them, without attitude, what they think is wrong with it, and what they suggest you do instead.

The results can be amazing. Often the critic is exposed: he has no idea what's wrong with it, and no suggestions for what you might do instead. You'll just get a lot of bluster and the critic will know he's been exposed. But even if someone manages to come up with some disdainful answers, all you have to do is nod with interest, even write them down. (That always gets a satisfying reaction. Try it and you'll see.) In any event, you're running the exchange, you're watching them, and your enthusiasm won't be dampened, just put aside and protected for a little while. If someone really tries to sabotage your enthusiasm when you're alert, they'll be disappointed when you stay cheerful. (Disappointing bad guys feels really good.)

Even if the critic turns out to be one of the truly constructive ones, curiosity is called for. You might get some great help launching your idea. In any event, defensiveness would be the wrong move entirely. You never want to make a good guy work too hard when they're of a mind to help you.

Don't be shy about asking the critic, helpful or destructive, aways with respect and curiosity, 'How do you know that?' If your critic is a deflator, he'll give a stupid answer and walk off in a huff. But if you've found a truly knowledgeable critic, you'll get a real answer. If that happens, you've gotten a gift of high value: the attention of someone who can tell you what you need to know -- and might actually enjoy seeing you succeed.

Such people are rare, but if you find any, listen to their words with care. They could change your life. And when you're rich and famous, you can become one of those rare good critics yourself and do the same for others.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

I disagree with Seth Godin about Genius and Lizard Brain

Do you ever get a great, inspiring idea so good it's thrilling? And you start thinking about how good it is, and start thinking about the steps you might take to make it happen, and you really are high.

And then something happens. You slow down, or someone hears it and puts a pin in your balloon, or you get weary thinking of the amount of work it will take, and here you are barely keeping up with your existing To Do List. And that turns into a feeling that the idea wasn't really as good as it looked. In fact it was unrealistic. You almost think that whenever anyone's that happy about something they're probably being foolish. At least, you are. Self-doubt takes over. That great idea looks like it will never actually happen. Never could have happened.

If so, you're facing a very common experience. Everyone goes through it. And lots of people try to solve the problem of the slump. There's a huge industry based on Motivation. Football coaches try to rev up their teams at half-time, and speakers try to persuade you to be positive. Some call this slump your 'Lizard Brain,' the part of you that's primitive and scared, and everyone comes up with some kind of solution, because a slump in motivation, the presence of what I call 'the Resistance Monster,' can cause big problems. If you can't find a way to get that motivation back again, you could lose your job, flunk out of school, or let your business die on the vine.

One of my favorite writers, a very smart, innovative thinker named Seth Godin, gives his advice on how to deal with it. He says that when the lizard brain kicks in and the resistance slows you down, the only correct response is to push back again and again and again with one failure after another and sooner or later, the lizard will get bored and give up.

I wrote and told him I think he's got this one wrong. I said that I think we should save the calories and let the synapses rest. Because I believe that we're programmed to crash after a high as a way of keeping us out of danger and letting us build up some energy. (He answered very graciously, suggesting that my ideas were very interesting and probably come more from a woman's thinking than a man's. I just might agree with him on that.)

Anyway, for what it's worth, here's my Theory of The Three Stages of Excitement:

Excitement (caused by one of those delicious fits of inspiration we all have from time to time) is actually half fear and half joy. When a good idea hits you like lightning, it's fabulous. I do believe it's definitely, by any definition, a flash of genius, but one that's available to everyone.

So, first you get high on the joy, and then, when you get past familiarity, you suddenly realize you're too far out there for safety (according to your inner survival mechanisms) and you get scared, or you lose confidence, and that's when you crash. Then you usually give up. I think a lot of really good ideas get unnecessarily wasted this way

I see excitement as having 3 stages and no one seems to mention the third. (It's not a return to the excitement.) Here's one way to describe it:

Phase One: You're on a real high and when you're high, it's almost exactly like falling in love. When you're in love, you're a genius. You can see, hear, smell, understand what no one else can. That's why no one else seems to get it that your newborn baby is the most beautiful baby that has ever existed. You're not crazy. You can actually see details that they miss. Their babies, because you're not in love with them, look rather ordinary to you. Nature is no fool. She's got survival down pat.

Save that vision! In Phase One I advise all my readers/listeners/audiences to write down each and every detail, not in notes, diagrams or outlines, but in long declarative sentences that explain how you came to each conclusion. You'll need to understand them later when you're in a different mood, so don't assume that brief notes or outlines with mean anything to you later.

Phase Two: Fear trumps Joy. Or someone hurts your feelings and takes the wind out of your sails. When your primitive survival mechanisms begin to wake up, you become more sensitive than usual to fear, doubt, hurt. Your survival gear is crude but it's powerful and it knows how to stop you from doing anything reckless -- or anything at all! It gives you what can be called a micro-depression.

You experience it as a crash. And when you crash, you have all the attendant frills of any 'real' depression: you lose energy, you lose interest, and you no longer calculate or plan in action terms, or in the present at all. And something funny happens: you suddenly feel very wise, all-knowing, far-seeing, even cynical. You feel you understand everything and see life in long, philosophical terms. You start to speak in terms like 'never,' 'always,' and 'how could I have been so stupid?' 'It has always been so. It will ever be so,' or even, 'Those who hope are fools."

That's what's being called Lizard Brain these days. That's where motivators tell you that you have to become positive again. And they tell you to believe in yourself and get back into action or the universe with turn its back on you. Some say yo must try really hard to make yourself positive again. In all honesty I believe that, unless it's half-time at a football game, that doesn't really work very well. Seth Godin, thankfully, doesn't ask us to try to rearrange our brains and force positive thoughts.

What he does do is advise us to battle this phase. I can see why: it appears that you either fight it or you give up. But beware of appearances because I don't think those are the only two alternatives at all.

Another look at The Crash
At Phase Two of excitement, the crash, I think we're supposed to (temporarily) give in. Relax. Feeling stupid? Call yourself stupid and despise happy, excited people for not realizing that life sucks. Lay about watching disgusting TV shows and eating crackers in bed. Whine to your friends on the phone. Bathe less.

If you give in to Phase Two without holding back, you'll find yourself soon getting bored with it. When your energy begins to build up a little, and all that delicious self pity starts to bore you. You're ready to pick up the empty food cartons and tidy up a bit, and you start feeling a bit better. But you try to remember not to fall for another sucker punch and to stifle your unruly tendency to enthusiasm and excitement.

Of course, that never works, what typically happens instead is that you wait until you get excited about another great idea and go through the process over again. If you're someone who has a lot of good ideas, this could happen over and over again.

But I believe that you're not finished with the original genius idea you had in Phase One!

Because when you've had enough of Phase Two, and almost as if nature meant for it to happen this way, you will move into a very important, almost never mentioned phase - what I call Phase Three. And that's the best phase of all. But if you don't know about Phase Three, you could miss it and waste a lot of your best ideas.

Phase Three: Now you've gone through two of the three phases of excitement and now the process pays off. Because Phase Three is the payoff. That's when you're in the right frame of mind to lay out a plan, roll up your sleeves and execute it. Without the high, without the crash, but with real respect for a good idea and the steady energy that makes things happen.

But I believe you won't have that energy unless you crashed when you were supposed to. I think that's what Phase Two is for.

If you wrote them down the way I hope you did, you now can dig up those carefully written, completely understandable notes you wrote in Phase One and read them in sober daylight, with real interest -- and with neither a negative bias, or heart-banging excitement.

Because Phase Three is where all the work actually gets done. It's always been like that: slow and steady. The Genius has burned bright, burned out, and left great instructions. The Burned Out one has hibernated and gathered energy. And now the Intelligent Hard Worker is ready to get to work.

Why is this so important? Because I'm convinced that once you realize there's a Phase Three, you won't wear yourself out battling Lizard Brain anymore. And you won't discard really good ideas, either.

My two cents.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Action instead of Aggravation

That's what I used to say to my kids when they were worried about something that might happen in the near future: Instead of,"Let's do something about it instead of worrying ourselves to death," I'd say. "Action Instead of Aggravation!"

I see I haven't changed much in the last 40 years. Here's an exchange I had recently with someone who wrote me an email. (The letters she sent were much longer than the excerpts I've copied here.)

(1)  Country: Canada
Permission: OK to publish

Question: Dear Barbara.......I am so glad I found you at this time in my life! I stumbled on your book "Live The Life You Love" at the library. I have never been in such a "dark" place in all my life. [She goes on to describe a very difficult childhood and the resulting anxiety she has always experienced] It has prevented me from doing much. I recently moved back home (sadly my mom has passed on so her warmth is not here) and my dad is still verbally abusive... My sister is mentally ill and has been taking her wrath out on me and my brother since we were small.

My grown kids are always angry with me. Even my best friend says she is tired of my "pity parties." I'm seeing a counselor who listens very well but cannot really help me other than listen.

My courage is at an all time low - I need a job. There's more, and it's just as bad. Anyway, any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated.


(2)   Hi GL:

I have a suggestion. I'm hardly the first person to advise this, and you're not going to want to do it but you should really give it a try. It almost always works:

Go to some place where people need something you’re skilled at (like speaking English, for instance) and help them. That is, volunteer.

Don't volunteer to lick stamps or do any kind of solo work. Go where there you can help humans who need you. Teaching English to people who want to learn it is one thing you can do. No matter how low your self-esteem might be, you must admit you speak pretty good English.

Everyone who teaches English to immigrants or reading to illiterate adults invariably loves it. They tell me they meet wonderful, courageous people who are really worth helping. They get a lot of respect from their students, too, and getting respect right now would be better than vitamins for you.

You’re clearly depressed, so I'm glad you're getting professional help. But your letter shows that you're too much in the habit of thinking and talking about yourself. That's not wise. Isolation exaggerates dark feelings. Get into action and focus on something important enough to make you forget yourself for a few hours every day. Sign up for a steady schedule, and volunteer to teach conversational English to foreigners in classrooms. Or at coffee. Or in the park after class. It will open up a new world for you.

Try it and see.


(3) Thank you so much Barbara. I feel honored that you would take the time to offer some advice to little old me. I just started the chapter in your book( Lesson 6 on Resistance.) I am only able to read at night in bed (easier to concentrate) so will read on tonight. I just feel so insignificant and transparent and so very sad. I might be depressed but everything in my life is conducive to that so it's a "normal" depression I think. I am actually a very strong person but lately it's all getting too much. I might try and move to Cold Springs Island where I can live surrounded by wildlife. GL

(4) No, no, unh unh, GL. Bad idea. I don’t think you heard me. First, I strongly advise against moving anywhere that will make you more isolated than you are right now. You need to have your thoughts interrupted by appointments, human voices and faces. Everyone who's down in the dumps always wants to be more alone but isolation almost always makes everything worse.

Second, let me spell out what I told you in my previous note: I said to go — on a regular basis, like every Tuesday and Thursday morning of every week for at least 3 months — to a location where you can help someone else. Teaching English to foreigners is one way to do that, but not the only way.

Third, I didn’t say to read Lesson 6 on Resistance. or any of my books. They won’t help you right now. They're not right for where you are. The only thing that’s right for you at this point in time is to pick yourself up, hose yourself down, put on some clothes that won't attract attention and find a volunteer job helping other people. You are in no position to be thinking about yourself right now. You must battle your self-focused impulses and be able to think about others, people you feel responsible for, at least 6 hours a week. Otherwise you'll never get out of that damp, dark basement.

Fourth: Your circumstances are certainly bad, but it doesn’t matter why you’re depressed, you are depressed. If you weren't, you'd change your circumstances for the better without writing me. But that's hard to do when you're feeling negative. You're not in any mood to create opportunities or invent something great for yourself. Taking initiative isn't one of the symptoms of unhappiness. But there are projects that already exist and you can go to them. Your lack of energy can't be reversed unless you have to be somewhere at a certain regular time doing something with other humans; something that makes a difference.

If you can't find a way in the door to teach English to adults, go to a women’s shelter, find out what they need and see if you can find a way to get it for them. Sometimes it means no more than cleaning out your closet and giving them some nice clothes, or children's books to read to their kids. Well, for starters. Then you have to start bothering other people to donate their clothes and children's books. :-) Next thing you know, you'll feel depressed a whole lot less.

Helping animals can be good too, but I think you need a different kind of feedback, more challenging to your "long thoughts," so it's humans for you, at least for a while. Help them. Make their lives easier. That's a sunny occupation and will get rid of the mold that wants to grow in your thinking.

You won’t want to do this, I know. Clearly you feel bitter, a victim of injustice, and you don’t want to help anyone. You might think you have nothing to give. Or that you have to straighten out your life before you can help other people. But trust me, that thinking, justified or not, will keep you weak. Quit looking at the darkness around your shoulders. Look out the window instead.

Now, quit reading my book and fantasizing about getting a job. Just drag your butt out there and do what I'm telling you.


(6) Hi Barbara

I don't know if I will have the time to volunteer as I have to get a job before my savings are all depleted. This means I have to summon up strength that I don't know if I have and put all my time and efforts into earning a living.(even if I have to take anything for now) With the economic times the way they are there are many unemployed and me being 53 years old I don't exactly have youth on my side either. I do so appreciate you taking the time to reply Barbara.


If you get dressed and make some calls and volunteer tomorrow, you might have the energy to look for a job the next day or the next week. You'll also have the air of someone who's doing something on this planet that matters. You'll make a better impression in an interview than you can today.

If you stick around your volunteer position for a month or so and give it everything you've got, and you put your heart into never short-changing the people who need your help, you'll probably get hired by the organization, or, at the very least, be given a great letter of recommendation. Showing up and caring about what you do will make you stand out from the crowd. You'll be noticed.

If you don’t do what I'm telling you to do, and pretty quick, you might just stay where you are until all your savings are gone.

You know I'm right. Why didn't you go looking for a job yesterday? You felt lousy, that's why. It's the same reason you won't go looking for a job tomorrow.

Quit writing me letters and start searching the internet for a volunteer opportunity, right now.


(7)  Okay, Barbara - I will try my best! You're tough. Thanks.

Well, dear reader, that's the whole exchange. I haven't heard from her, and I have no more muscle to make her do something than you see above. I know that chances are at least 50/50 that she won't act soon enough to avoid being pulled further down into the soup. But that leaves a whole 50% chance that she will, and that's worth the effort.

So why do I answer letters like this one? Well, I've had enough practice and experience to know that I'm probably right in what I told her. And I get lots of letters that show that sometimes I do make a difference.

For the rest, I do it for myself. I just remember what Tracy Kidder said in one of my favorite books, Mountains Beyond Mountains:

"If you do the right thing well, you avoid futility."

He's talking about a true hero, Doctor Paul Farmer. There aren't enough people on this planet like him. He has set himself an almost impossible task - originally to stamp out tuberculosis in Haiti. But he's made amazing progress not only against the disease but against the world-wide organizations and people who block real solutions. And that's not the most 'impossible' task he's set himself. He's throwing everything he has at trying to stamp out poverty because he knows it's the true cause of disease.

I'm not a hero, just one of those people who knows a couple of things and isn't afraid to boss people around and tell them what to do. There aren't enough of us, either.

But I'm trying to do something about that, too. I'm helping some wonderful students use their personal experience to help others, so I have reason to expect that soon there will be more bossy people who know what they're talking about, walking up to people they recognize as being like themselves, and bossing them around too."Get into action. Do something for somebody and stick with it for a while!" Action instead of Aggravation!

I'm hoping for a groundswell.



Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sometimes you have to remember to cry even if you don't know why.

I have an acceptable reason to cry these days, a reason everyone understands. I lost my Mom last July. Being with her the last months while she was dying wasn't easy but there was a lot to do so I didn't cry much. But ever since, that pain sneaks up on me.

I know from years of experience that when I hurt, I should cry. The problem is that I don't always know when hurt is trying to surface. Sometimes I turn it off. Sometimes my big, dumb bodyguard, Resistance (I sometimes call it 'Slugger') thinks it's protecting me from danger by turning the switch on *all* my emotions to 'Off,' and leaving a leaden chest-plate in their place.

So this morning I was working here furiously, my 3 computers - the 10 month old, 2 year old and 5 year old - all open at the same time, and I was having fun designing and setting up new programs and scheduling them, tweeting them, checking my Google Alerts and my Twilerts and Tweetbeeps, humming along as I often do at this jolly time of day when I am frequently quite deft at spinning plates -- when I start to notice that I'm getting totally lost every time a computer slows down or 'Spaces' tosses me to the wrong screen. This is not what I want.

It gets worse and my brain finally grinds to a complete standstill. It's gotta be that A.D.D., I'm thinking. I'm familiar with it: a fog shows up from time to time and I find myself staring blankly at my notes and those sites open on my computer screen, all of which so recently seemed significant and now they all look like they're written in Linear B and I'm Tarzan, and don't know how I came to be sitting here in this familiar but incomprehensible world. (I don't think Tarzan works quite right here, but if you have A.D.D., you know what I mean.)

Damn. Well, I can't do anything about an A.D.D. seizure but let it pass, I guess. And then I notice the heaviness of that leaden chest-plate and I remember what that usually means: something hurts. It doesn't feel like hurt, but that's what it feels like when I'm avoiding feelings. I might not know what it's about, even, and if I did, who wants to experience pain? But I know I'd better try to cry or I'll waste the whole day.

(If you find it odd to acknowledge the presence of emotional hurt when the cause isn't clear, think for a moment. You don't require an explanation of causes when other bodily needs make themselves known. If you're driving and you don't know why you're sleepy, for example, chances are there's a good reason. Pull over and take a nap.)

I'm familiar with this phenomenon as you know if you've read any of my books or come to see me back when I had time to see people. (New thought: I never got foggy when I was working with a living human. Not once. Hmmm. That's worth exploring later.)

Since I invariably become stupified at such moments and don't remember what to do, I've given myself instructions so simple a microbe would understand: Cry.

Right now, with something so obviously painful in my recent past, I don't need to wonder what hurts. I just have to picture my poor mom going through those weeks of discomfort, delirium and fear and the dam breaks and I'm sobbing again. And when the sobbing has finished shaking me around, the lead in my chest and the confusion in my brain are gone. I know that outcome from experience, I expect it, and it happened that way today. And as soon as I finish telling you about this phenomenon, I'm going back to work.

If you're anything like me (or the thousands of people I've worked with in the last 40 years) you'll find that sometimes the signs of sorrow will sneak up on you when nothing painful has happened at all. At those times it's even harder to remember to get out the tears* because 1) you don't feel hurt, you just feel odd, and 2) there doesn't seem to be anything to cry about. This can present a problem that may not be as hard to solve as a quadratic equation w/ 3 unknowns, but hard enough.

(Ask me another time about how fear, the fear that something bad is about to happen in the near future, is often about your sense that a painful emotion is trying to fight its way to the surface. Which is to say, you're actually afraid that the *past* is about to happen.)

To add to the confusion, it's not always hurt that has surfaced, not exactly. It could be nothing more than stress. Studies indicate that tears contain stress enzymes, which might mean that releasing tears relieves stress. It could be fear (which is actually stress, I think)  Children, and some of us grownups, can cry when they're frightened. It could even be anger. People who can't or don't want to get really pissed off will sometimes cry from frustration or rage.

I personally believe that you can find some kind of sorrow hiding beneath stress and fear and frustration, but no matter, right now. The point is that if you feel uneasy and/or 'turned off,' bringing up tears will calm you down and wake you up almost every time**. Tears will ease your heart and return your eyesight and brain function. They melt lead chest-plates like hot water melts ice cubes.

But how are you supposed to cry (not that you've consented to do any such thing, I understand that) when you can't think of anything to cry about? Isn't this 'Cry-just-in-case' thing just another gimmick, like spinning or blinking or rapidly tapping your forehead with a small brass hammer? I don't know much about those things, but I doubt it. I'd like to make the case that babies never bother themselves with such questions and they don't seem to care why they want to cry. They cry when they feel like it, and calm down (or doze off) afterwards.

Truth is, for the purpose of quickly relieving numbness, confusion, or the frozen feeling you have before a speech or an audition or an interview or a first date, it doesn't matter what you cry about. It's not even important if you never find out. Think about all the grand, loving, lost collies like Lassie who never got home from Scotland or how it's raining in Odessa if that works, and the resulting emotion, like an aspirin, will seek out the place it's needed and do its work with no further help from you.

Okay, I let my tears out and I feel better and will now get back to setting up my new events, taking side trips to read stuff by kind Jonathan Field and wise Havi and finish the assignments for my heroic WriteSpeak students and get new short url's for my youtube videos...etc. etc. Sticks are up, plates are ready to resume spinning.

But I'm going to try to remember one thing that I didn't think about before:

When I'm in a fog, it's not always A.D.D. at all.

Or, if it is, I've found a cure and will expect notification that I've been awarded the Nobel Prize (or at least the host-ship of Oprah's show) in my mailbox.

I'd really love you to comment below. I'll do everything I can (subscribe to my own blog?) to answer you as soon as I can.

Here are those footnotes you forgot about:

*For those of you who find actual wet tears to be maddeningly evasive, some semi-deep breathing -- or a 'woe is me' series of sighs -- will create almost the same benefit.

** If you cry often and easily, bringing up tears probably won't work for you and my advice is to check with your local psychopharmacologist for signs of depression. If you get the all-clear on that, here's a fortune-cookie piece of advice (but it works): grab a tennis racket and beat the living crap out of your stupid, insolent, bed mattress. Have no mercy. Find that part of you that is self-righteously enraged, completely unfair and unforgiving, and just punish that bugger.

What's the logic in that?
Because feelings that won't go away are frequently smokescreens for less acceptable feelings, and this is a harmless way to blow them out without hurting anyone. Well, it's sometimes kind of hard on the tennis racket. You might want to go to a thrift shop and keep a couple of cheap ones on hand. (Don't get a badminton racket or you'll wind up with a splinter in your eye and your mom will get mad at me.)