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The official blog of familyWORKZ™

November 19, 2009


Filed under: Individual,Uncategorized — admin @ 8:00 pm

The word “jinx” originates from the southeastern U.S. bird that supposedly had the ability to predict the future. Most unfortunately, the bird proved less competent in accurately predicting favorable events but had a unique ability to see the bad things coming. It is from this reputation of being able to predict unfavorable events that today we associate the word “jinx” with any person or thing that brings about bad luck.

This word has a unique type of stickiness to it. We learn this word very young. It is the perfect word to use when, engaged in a child’s game, you try to bestow bad luck upon your opponent or restore a bit a good luck in your direction. Yet, as adults, this word rarely makes an appearance.


Does this word somehow lose its perfectness? I argue that it is not the word that changes. Instead, it is us that loosens our grip on the power of this word and its magical properties. What changes is our ability to remain playful with our lives, our situation, and ourselves. In this sense, as adults, we take ourselves far too seriously.

When bad things happen, typically, we either blame the external world or ourselves. It’s as if we are left with only two choices – attack others or attack ourselves. Either way, we attack.

What ever happened to simply blaming our situation on bad luck?

Next time you find yourself in a situation that is not going your way, turn the tables by saying out loud, “Jinx!” See what happens.

My guess is that by putting yourself back into the frame of mind of your youth, you’re likely to take your problem, your situation, even yourself, a bit less seriously. That’s got to bring a smirk to your face.

July 7, 2009

Day-to-Day Shocks

Filed under: Couples,divorce,Individual,parenting,Uncategorized — admin @ 2:43 pm

When life goes “according to plan” there isn’t much to complain about. In fact, one might argue, under such conditions, life is good. But is it really?

Think about all that you most remember. Do you recall with vivid detail those moments when life is undisturbed by disappointment, frustration, or rejection? When life is running its course and the expression “smooth sailing” best describes your situation, are flashbulbs going off capturing these events? The answer is most likely “no.”

Why is it that when we are sailing along and perhaps “on top of the world” our brains aren’t enjoying the high life with detailed recollection of such grand times? The short answer is that when life remains the same, regardless of its quality or lack thereof, our minds begin to shut down because it already knows what it knows and there is no reason to remain interested or active. Stated differently, consider that are minds are basically pattern-recognition machines. They look for information against which to compare against what it already knows – a template. When sensory information is collected, even a small piece, that appears to match a previous experience, it’s as if the mind says “voila” and it goes back to its resting position. Think about, for example, two simple dots drawn on a blank piece of paper. One might believe that it is a straight line that is being contemplated. However, the mind remains uncertain. However, when a third dot is introduced that is equal distance from each other, the mind sees the outline of a geometric figure and the person responds by saying “triangle.” Once the mind becomes convinced that it is right, it goes on to other things. In this way, when our lives are doused with comfort, our minds respond by going off-line or at least transform into a more acquiescent state.

Turning our attention to relationships, which is where most of our human drama occurs, if it is true that our minds are keenly interested in differences, change, and adjustment, why is that this is the same stuff that most upsets relationships? This conundrum can be explained referencing the Doom Loop. Think about our lives being arranged along two axes, which comprises a 2×2 matrix. On axis-X, there are two situations: “what I like” and “what I don’t like.” On axis-Y, there is “what I’m good at” and “what I’m not good at.” When “what I like” intersects with “what I’m not good at” the outcome is excitement. When we apply ourselves in this zone and eventually acquire some skills, then we move into the “Comfort Zone,” which is made up of “what I like” and “what I’m good at.” However, when we stay in this zone too long, we eventually stop liking whatever it is that once gave us comfort. In this way, we move from the comfort zone into the Boredom Zone. It is in this zone that trouble begins brewing. If we don’t do anything constructive about the situation, then we shift from the boredom zone into the Doom Zone – consisting of the combination of “what I don’t like” and “what I’m not good at.” Returning to the issue of relationship dynamics, think about a situation in your life that is best described by the Boredom Zone.

Perhaps you have been playing golf your whole life and the luster of this game no longer appeals to you like it once did. In a word, you have become “bored.” Once bored, it is easy to take your eye off the ball, lose your concentration, and your score begins to noticeably suffer. In this way, you have entered the Doom Zone. Similarly, relationships can be measured in accordance with the zone you most find yourself in – Excitement, Comfort, Boredom, or Doom. It is in the comfort and boredom zones where our minds begin to shut down. Interestingly, by comparison, it is in the Excitement and Doom Zones where our minds become most active. Related to this phenomenon, it appears, at least to the mind, that there is not much difference between these two zones. In fact, the distance between the two zones is really a matter of perception and attitude. The difference is made clear when what you “like” and “don’t like” is analyzed carefully.

Using this concept of our mind’s pattern-matching predisposition, when the day-to-day shocks of life’s uncertainties confront you, contemplate which direction your mind leans. Does it become excited for the challenge and remain in a learning mode? Or, does it become frightened and defensive, preferring to judge the situation and, thus, become closed minded.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn to be more in-control of life’s day-to-day shocks, instead of being controlled by them? The difference lies in one’s state of mind – having a mind that is either in learning mode or judgment mode. In both cases, according to how our minds make memories, flashbulbs will likely be popping. Your role in these momentous events is to determine whether the memory is worth savoring or will end up being more unsavory.

What kind of flashbulbs have been “POPPING” in your life lately?

June 22, 2009

Popcorn Psychology

Filed under: Individual — Tags: — admin @ 2:50 am

What we know to be true about our self, our situation, and our future can be whittled down to a few basic kernels.

Kernel One: What we know to be true about anything and everything is configured based on the way we see a situation. In this way, our vital and most basic worldview is uniquely and profoundly shaped by perception.

Kernel Two: Perception is grounded in what we have learned. It is our learning history, therefore, that colors our ability to make sense of nonsense. Unfortunately, we do not always swiftly remember what we have learned. In fact, we have forgotten much more than we will ever remember. But we do hang onto what we forget – at least whispers and threads. The repository of our forgotten knowledge is our unconscious mind.

Kernel Three: Related to the above situation, it is the stuff in the back of our minds that becomes the source of our personal quirks. While our everyday mind is working swiftly and efficiently by accessing logical and emotional judgment, our view of reality becomes uniquely twisted by the forces of deception, delusion, and distortion. The mind is not interested in being crowned incomparable, but it is highly motivated to be seen as logical, steady, and blameless.

Kernel Four: Since our view of reality is prone to impression management (seeing the world based on templates of past impressions), learning and unlearning are equally tricky. If learning requires unlearning, and we don’t have readied access to what we have forgotten, how does new learning occur? After a certain point, do we ever learn anything new or merely experience a revised version of what has been forgotten?

What additional kernels come to your mind?

June 15, 2009

Time Juggling

Filed under: Couples,Families,Individual,parenting — admin @ 10:33 am

Without even noticing, one of our greatest challenges is how we juggle time.

Time is, at once, ever present and invisible. It simultaneously helps us to keep our lives organized while making us feel pressured and full of doubt. In this way, time is fickle and judgmental – it is something that can be either on our side or against us. Time can “run out,” exist in ample supply (“don’t worry, there’s plenty of time left”), or it can be something that we have too much of (“will this never end?”). Time can run fast or be idle – as in “standing still.” Time can disappear (“where did the time go?”). Time can mysterious (“does anybody have any idea what time it is?”). Time can be deceptive (“I had no idea it was getting so late”). Time can even be elusive (“where did the time go?).

In this sense, time is tricky.

To get a grasp on time, think of time as three balls. Next, give a unique name to each ball. Call the first ball the “past,” the second the “present,” and the third the “future.” Now, ask yourself, “are you good at juggling time?” Or, do you occasionally drop the ball? If so, which ball are you most likely to drop? What is the cost of dropping one or more balls? How would your life be different if you became better at juggling?

If there is a fourth ball (I think there is), what name would you give it? Hint: think Einstein.

Mind Dominoes

Filed under: Individual — admin @ 10:03 am

The pace of our everyday lives often goes at such a speed that we have difficulties keeping up with what is most important. Without notice, our priorities often shift so that we end up taking care of whatever is in front of us instead of putting energy into what we really need to do. In this way, it is as if our lives end up controlling us as opposed to us being in-control of our lives.

When things happen to us and around us, we begin to live less intentionally and less consciously. We end up living reactively, instead of constructively and purposefully. This phenomenon of events, moments, and activities happening to us one right after the other is what I call “mind dominoes.” In our mind, we allow the moment to take control and, unconsciously, let go of the reigns to our lives. As a result, we end up enjoying our lives less and becoming more critical (thought dumping) or grumpy (emotional gravity). 

If you are finding yourself having difficulty with enjoying the present moment think about the dominoes that are falling in your mind. Remember, once the first domino falls, the rest are sure to follow.

The key to reversing the domino process is to follow a simple formula – LEARN, LOOK, ASK & TRY. First, when the dominoes start falling, learn from the situation. What caused the first domino to fall? How many dominoes need to fall before you become aware of that your mind domino process is happening? Second, look all around you. What conditions, events, or stressors are connected to the domino effect? You will need to become more aware of these triggers, these are likely very important dominoes. Third, ask for help. Don’t think you can stop your dominoes alone. Other people in your life are there for a purpose. If nothing else, arrange for someone to help you stop your dominoes from falling when they begin cascading. Fourth, try something else. Dominoes can be used for things other than falling. We can build with dominoes. Dominoes can be counted. Dominoes can even be replaced or traded. Also, we can learn from our dominoes by not collecting more dominoes until we are ready. 

What is a “domino” in your life?

Do you play dominoes or do your dominoes play you?

If you could remove any one domino, what domino would you pick up and remove from the chain?

Are these dominoes real or do they only exist in our mind?

May 26, 2009


Filed under: divorce,Individual — admin @ 6:25 am

When life gets complicated, fills with tension, and a problem pushes you to the brink, you’re entitled to be confused; you’re entitled to feel guilty; you’re entitled to be scared; you’re entitled to want to stop hurting; you’re entitled to want to escape; you’re entitled to hope things don’t get worse; you’re also entitled to want the best for yourself. 

Entitlements are essentially those things that make us uniquely but not fully human. Adding one more dimension to this existential puzzle completes the picture of our humanity, taking our capacity to become a better version of ourselves to a new level – you’re also entitled to think how your entitlements impact others.

May 21, 2009

Reopening the Black Box

Filed under: Individual — Tags: — admin @ 11:04 pm

Much has been written about the mind – the “thing” inside of permits us to become aware of ourselves, our situation, and our future. In this way, it is our mind that permits self-consciousness and our ability to “know.” While scholarship has grown immensely over the years about brain functioning and other matters of the mind, much remains unknown or uncertain about the mind and its operation. Perhaps this is why the mind is often referred to as “the black box.”  

Some people (behaviorists) focus on what happens in the external or public world and ignore, even discredit, what is happening in the internal or private world of our mind. In this way, the black box is not directly addressed and remains closed. Yet, for others, keeping the lid closed on the black box is unthinkable, even absurd.

If the black box is what allows us to know about the world, our self, and, most uniquely, our place in the world, then our willingness to reopen the black box is what encourages self-discovery. It is this reopening that gives to us a uniquely human capacity to recognize our inner conflicts and understand what makes us unique and others tick. By opening the black box at the right time through contemplation, self-reflection, and the request of feedback, our ability to grow and develop is accelerated. Stated another way, keeping the lid on the black box, which is equivalent to suppressing self-discovery, is equivalent to endorsing the continuation of self-deception.

If we all lie to ourselves at one time or another (self-deception), it is through learning how to speak our deeper, more aware, less denying truth that stimulates self-growth and strengthens personal development. In this way, learning and growing up is best accomplished by reopening the black box the right amount at the right time in the presence of the right person for the right reason.

May 11, 2009

Solid Air – The Crux of Anxiety

Filed under: Individual — Tags: — admin @ 1:47 am

Anxiety is the brain’s response to perceived danger. What makes anxiety so difficult to understand, let alone control, is that it comes alive due to a unique interplay of biology and biography.

The biology of anxiety becomes apparent when a situation becomes uncertain or unpredictable. In such cases, the body responds by preparing for one of two things – fight or flight. The lack of choice is made possible by the evolved neurobiology of our brains. When threatened, the body must be prepared to take action. Anxiety, accordingly, is one of the body’s best friend and trusted ally. Yet, to the person experiencing the anxiety, the shortness of breath, palms sweating or heart beating faster feels anything but friendly. The shortness of breath, in particular, can be felt as being plain scary. It is as if the very air we breath becomes more dense, thicker, almost unbreathable – solid air. But make no mistake about it, anxiety is our body’s “solution” to being threatened.

The biography of anxiety makes the condition tricky to resolve. That is, what is perceived as threatening becomes reality by virtue of our learning history. In this way, the object of our anxiety is often blow out of proportion due to what we have been taught to be scary. When something is perceived as being dangerous, our minds disconnect from the relational world and enter into a private world comprised of one. It is in this state of aloneness or oneness that often amplifies the sense of fear into fright. For example, imagine that while walking along a trail in the woods you come across a very special area filled with stingerless bees. Since you have only encountered bees with stingers, you cannot and do not imagine that these trail bees are without stingers. Consequently, based on your learning history, you react according to your history. In this situation, it is likely the very sound of “bzzzz” will send you fleeing down the trail at record speed. Yet, if your mind could no what it does not know (that these bees do NOT have stingers), then your response would be very different. In this way, the privatization of anxiety sends the person’s mind into a state of solitary confinement – we become trapped in our mind. When enforced or protracted, this type of solitude becomes unbearable. Biographically speaking, when the freedom to be ourselves is stolen, we collapse into a sense of involuntary privacy and are left holding all the cards with no one to share the load (solitaire = solid air).

The crux to managing anxiety involves learning how to balance control (breathing) and connection (belonging).

February 7, 2009

Liquid Morality

Filed under: Couples,divorce,Individual,parenting — Tags: — admin @ 7:39 pm

Increasing one’s flexibility toward being concerned about issues beyond self requires expanding one’s perspective about the world, how one fits into the world, what one can offer the world, and what the world can offer right back. 

Stepping into our maturity requires learning how to balance self needs with the needs of others. When our background provides us love only through conditional channels, the lesson we learn is that the needs of others are more important than others (others>self). When our past babies us, protects us from all harm, and disallows us from facing hard times, the lesson learned is that the only thing that really counts is self, and the needs of other people takes a backseat (self>others). Alternatively, if life provides us a balance of protection and freedom, transparency and mystery, familiarity and spontaneity, the perspective we learn allows us to balance the needs of both self and others (self=others), which provides us sufficient resiliency to deal with life’s struggles and enough gumption to go out into the world and dazzle. 

Liquid morality involves the perspective that others are needed in order to develop self, and an authentic self is required to be available to satisfy the needs of others. This ebb and flow of self to others, others to self is what helps move us toward our true potential. In a sense, by being open to going with the flow of liquid morality what is gained is an opportunity to be more of who you really are and less of who you think you need to be.

February 6, 2009

State of Mind

Filed under: Couples,Individual — Tags: — admin @ 2:34 am

A “state” is a means to an end.  Put another way, the only way to get somewhere is to know, at least partially, where one is going.  When it comes to the mind, its job is to do precisely this – to know where you are going before you get there.  The problem is that sometimes our minds work too well.  This phenomenon of “knowing” can get in the way of “being” or “doing.”  

In this way, a “state of mind” is something that can interrupt our desire to connect with others. If our mind tells us that “we’re not good enough,” or “we’re not attractive enough,” or “don’t go over there, you’ll just get rejected again,” then it is likely that we will let our mind, which has made up its mind, guide our actions and control our destiny. 

If you are finding yourself trapped in a “state of mind,” then you may want to consider “getting out of your mind,” which implies moving back into your experience so that your mind has more information from which to make up its new mind. 

Another way of looking at this same thing is consider the phrase “balance in motion.” When we lose our balance in life, often times, we also stop moving – our motion stops and we become STUCK. To get unstuck, many people believe we should find our balance first and then we will start moving. What if this is wrong. What if getting unstuck in life is a lot like learning how to ride a bike. If your child asked you to teach him to ride his first bike, would you have him jump on the seat and sit there without moving for a week or so. This sounds pretty silly. But that is what many of us do with our life when it becomes stuck. 

Returning back to the bike example. If life is like this, then when we get stuck, the idea is that we have to move in order to find balance. This obviously takes some risk. After all, it is possible we can fall of the bike. But, you have to admit, at least when we fall we’re making new memories as opposed to repeating our old memories over and over – which is what it is like to be stuck in a state of mind.

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