There is suffering

The first noble truth in Buddhism is that there is suffering. At first, that seems obvious. Every life has its sorrows, some many more than others. Everyone dies. Atrocities are happening all over the world. Accepting that “bad stuff happens to good people” can be a balm. This isn’t the only kind of suffering, though, that the Buddha was talking about. The process of becoming an adult invariably leaves psychic wounds… deep-seated fears that left unexamined can distort a life. These fears feel like they’re about the future, but they are really about the past. In Heidegger’s words: “The dreadful…

Navigating through chaos

We all get overwhelmed sometimes. Our stories, resources, and energy can be insufficient to accommodate a new reality. We become disorganized, inefficient. Like any complex system, we enter a chaos state. This is an ever-present possibility for even the most enlightened or skilled individual. In a chaos state, we often find ourselves clinging to old ideas, to losses, to hopes for the future. We try to run the old program, even though the operating system has changed. Sometimes reality will shift back to something more pleasant and familiar. But it doesn’t always. As St. John of the Cross said: “Swiftly, with nothing spared, I am being…

Climb the ladder

There’s a classic tool from learning psychology that I sometimes use with clients. It’s called the ladder of learning. This model says that whenever we learn a new skill, we always go through four steps: Unconscious incompetence: You are blissfully unaware that you are bad at something. You feel strongly in synch with your environment and confident in your abilities. This feels wonderful, but by the same token, you aren’t learning anything.Conscious incompetence: New information begins to intrude on your awareness, or you are beset with new challenges that demand attention. Your habitual methods for dealing with problems stop working. This is an extremely stressful situation, and it requires…

Time, energy, attention

There’s an analogy that consultants often use about a professor who tries to fit some rocks, pebbles, and sand into a jar. The punchline is that if you put the rocks in first, there’s magically room for everything else around the edges. If you fill the jar with sand, it will fill to the top. In daily life, it can be hard to prioritize our most-important goals, given the constant distractions we encounter. One trick to improve how you manage time is to recognize how well you manage your energy. When our energy reserves are low, we focus on the…

Emotional intelligence

Emotions often get a bad rap in business settings. They are irrational, contagious, easily manipulated, and at odds with sound thinking. At least, that’s one view. I say instead that emotions are an integral and powerful part of how we think. And behind each individual feeling, there is a specific and decodable thought. For example: Anger = I am not getting what I want.Fear = There is danger here.Hatred = I am in ideological disagreement with someone with whom I share a close relationship. (Thank you to Robert C. Solomon and his book The Passions for pointing out this one.)Admiration = This person has a…

What will serve

I once heard Joan Halifax speak about the difference between what we desire and “what will serve.” Separating the two can be tricky. As a coach and strategist, I tend to start with wants. We can’t see the path forward, and the resources all around us, until we recognize what it is we’re trying to do. That said, there are times to put our wants aside. To recognize that each situation has its own unique logic. To rise to the occasion or surrender to it, even if the occasion is not to our liking. Wanting things is okay, as long as we can hold those…

Mindful metaphors

Human thought and language are both inherently metaphoric. Which means we never see or describe reality just as it is. Hence a paradox. Our metaphors matter because they determine what we can see and the meanings we can then make. And at the same time, no word, perception, or thought is ever fully true. So we can’t take them at face value. The secret to being miserable and/or unsuccessful is to believe your own thinking. Although we can’t get by without words, thoughts, and perceptions, we can be mindful of our relationships to them. We can create traps where our ideas…

Size matters

Sometimes our thoughts or emotions get overwhelming, repetitive. We get lost in their reality, and lose touch with the real world. At times like these, it’s helpful to remember that the part of the brain that controls conscious thought is small, and tires easily. The parts of the brain and central nervous system that handle emotions are larger. Larger still is your body. And larger than that is your environment… including your work station, diet, home, friends, digital networks, country, etc. Thought < Emotions < Body < Environment If you are stuck (thought) or stressed (emotions), notice that it’s sometimes easiest and…

No judgments

I was working out at a small gym recently. The only other two people there were a trainer and his client. The latter was a man in his mid-forties, who complained over the course of many minutes, and many exercises, about a woman named Sarah. He complained about Sarah’s parenting style. Her relationships. Her career choices. Reaching an angry crescendo, he said to his trainer, “I hate it when people say ‘No judgments’—that’s what we do as human beings, we judge!” That’s true, we do. But we don’t need to attach to our judgments. A judgment is always our problem, our choice to suffer. To close our…

Don’t be a pushover

In my twenties, I was in a bad car accident. As part of my long recovery, I tried a bunch of things, including at one point Rolfing. During our first session, my Rolfer tried to explain her practice. She talked about fascia, energy patterns, and “vectors.” I didn’t get it. So she pulled out an album of photos of her past clients, each one standing upright. She asked me if I could see turned-in knees, flared chests, uneven shoulders, tense necks. I could… but not really. At that point in my life I don’t think I had a clear image…

Get in touch

Ask a question, or book an initial call—we'd love to hear from you.