Living the Dream!

Last week a dear friend and I slipped away to Bald Head Island for a change of pace while my husband was away on business. The weather was gorgeous and the reprieve just what we both needed after a hectic, albeit productive, spring.  Before our trip, my friend and I agreed to experiment with a few things. We wanted to truly be living the dream while on BHI, even if it was only going to be for five days! For my friend and I, what that meant was paying attention to several things. First, we decided we would eat only healthy foods while on our get away (i.e., whole foods, nothing processed, no added sugar).  Just for kicks, I also decided to cut back significantly on my caffeine, allowing it only at breakfast. In addition to eating right, we also agreed to walking daily and practicing yoga.  Last, but certainly not least, we vowed we would not read the news. Full stop.

It is one thing to experiment in this way for a week or so. The bigger question for me was what would happen once I returned to the real world, where the every day demands return, where work, family and life happens no matter what?  Would I be inspired enough, much less able, to keep it up?  I really feel compelled to share with you the insights gleaned for our little experiment, the impact some of my habits were having on my body, mind and spirit and where I am now.

First, the food.  My friend is an excellent cook and has focused on eating only healthy foods for a couple of years now. For this trip, she offered to plan our meals and online shop for us.  My job was to pick up the groceries in route to BHI and to manage  the clean up after each meal. (Trust me when I say I came out WAY ahead on this deal!)  Our goal was simply to have tasty, satisfying food at every meal. It was not about calories, fat, carbs, Keto, Paleo or any of the latest fads floating around in the media. More specifically, it was NOT about dieting or weight loss.

Our menu included things like seafood, chicken, beans, fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, whole grain breads, olive oil and avocado. We ate three meals a day and typically had an afternoon snack, such as a smoothie or yogurt with fruit and granola. Each night also included one or two glasses of wine. (Insert “happy dance” bitmojis here!)

I was pleasantly surprised – almost immediately – to notice several things about the food part of our experiment:

  • I felt truly satisfied after every meal; comfortably full while not stuffed.
  • Water actually tasted better with these meals, likely because of the array of flavors packed into each of them. While calorie-free drinks weren’t banned completely, I noticed that my desire for them diminished greatly. Water very quickly became my go-to source for all hydration, vs the habitual diet soft drinks.
  • Since I don’t usually consume alcohol every day, the wine felt like a real indulgence.  And, given we mostly drank red, surely it fits within the criteria we had established for healthy eating.  🙂

Next, as promised, we walked every day and practiced yoga too. After literally months of long days sitting at my computer, it just felt great to get out every day and move. Wow. I mean really great.

Other things I noticed:

  • I was ready for bed at a decent hour every night, i.e., 10:30-11:00 pm vs. my usual habit of lights out at 1:00-2:00 am. (Some credit definitely goes to the reduction in caffeine for this one!)
  • I slept better than I have in months, perhaps even years!  Equally important, it was easier to get up in the morning too.

Then there was the “no news” bit.

  • Believe it or not, I completely halted the compulsive clicking on various news apps on my IPad.  Other than to check the weather, not once did I look at WRAL, the New York Times, the Skim, CNN or any other news outlets.  (Note: I did not swear off Facebook, so I had to work extra hard not to get sucked into the responses to the news that were posted there.)
  • I marveled daily over how many times I almost clicked on one of my various news apps out of habit. I shudder to think about how much time and energy I have wasted, particularly the last two and a half years, compulsively jumping from one source to another, often multiple times a day. I wondered out loud how long I could actually go without a “news fix”….
  • The shift in my emotional energy was particularly obvious. Within just a couple of days I noticed I felt lighter, more free. Gone was the tension that arose in anticipation of the next ridiculous political move or the insane finger-pointing rhetoric that has become our nation’s new norm. Gone was the dread of reading yet another article about a heartbreaking catastrophe or death. The little black cloud that had been following me practically evaporated completely!
  • Though it was subtle, the internal shift was obvious. I felt more calm, balanced and at ease.

One other thing was interesting to note. My friend and I didn’t feel compelled to GO anywhere or DO anything other than read and relax for five straight days. Other than a trip to the grocery store to pick up fresh fish, we stayed home and enjoyed the peace and quiet. We just enjoyed BEING.

So…now what? It has been a week since my friend and I departed BHI.  While trying not to sound cult-like in my transformation, I must confess I feel like I have been born again.  I came home equipped with all the recipes we enjoyed for the week and have added a few new ones too.  A quick but well-planned grocery run was all I needed to cover three or four days of healthy eating.  Prep and clean up when I cooked was a breeze. Actually, I noticed there was something quite satisfying about the whole process of prep and clean up. Just knowing I was making nutritionally sound decisions and taking care of my body really motivated me. I have also eaten out several times since returning home too, and each time I was very selective in terms of what I ordered.  In short, lots of veggies and a lean protein. Oh, and of course, wine….

Walking and yoga have continued to find a spot on my calendar too. Success for me is simply a minimum of thirty minutes at least 5 days a week.  Longer and/or more frequent is good too, and determined on a daily basis as I look at how to balance the demands of any given day vs, trying to stick to a rigid routine.  I just want to move more!

The net of it all:

  1. I feel better!  I’m more centered, more present.
  2. Completely GONE is the compulsion to keep up with the latest fad diet or research, much less the “breaking news.” I know now the news habit was about to break me. (I still have not found it in me to read the New York Times again…)
  3. Thankfully, I have more time in my day for the stuff that matters. Walking, writing, family and friends…that kind of stuff.
  4. Ironically, I suppose I also should report I’ve lost weight too.  But rather than get hooked by the what the scales say each day, I am committed to that worry not being my focus any more. Instead, I just want to provide for my body the nutrition and activity it needs to thrive. Unlike the first two thirds of my life, I want this next third to be free from the scales, the “rules” on how to follow this plan or that, fretting, the fads and the constant search for the magic bullet that would make me thin again.  My focus going forward will be on health and nutrition.  PERIOD.

How about you? As each of you, my dear readers, look at your life, what experiments do you want to try out so you can get closer to living your dream?  Feel free to share here what’s on your mind as you do!

A Quote

“Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.”  ~ B.K.S. Iyengar


The last thing you need to read on nutrition:

For some good news, based on facts:

Factfulness:  Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling and Anna Roslin Ronnlund.



The Call of the Internet

Anyone who knows me knows I love all things technology. I truly love my devices and I especially love having information at my fingertips. Whether it be work, home, family, friends, doctors, banking, insurance, leisure activities or health and fitness, literally every area of my life is managed, at least to some degree, by the internet. When it works like it’s supposed to, I can’t imagine my life without it.

But we all know the flip side of the coin. Often times, my turning to the conveniences derived from devices, the internet and technology leads to immense frustration. Mainly, I suffer from frustration with accessibility (think lost internet connections and balled-up passwords).  I confess it sometimes it drives me to the brink of insanity (think obscenities and alcohol). Rue the day when nothing works like it’s supposed to!

Then there are the privacy concerns that continue to swirl around in the news. Every day we are besieged with stories of how our national and/or personal security is at risk. Again, all maddening.

Perhaps most insidious though is the impact on my time, energy and life by the constant need, or perceived expectation from others, to connect. When I stop to look at all the technology crutches I have come to depend upon, and how they have slowly but surely crept into every area of my life, I am struck by how much of my time and emotional energy is sucked into the vortex of all things internet. At a minimum, it can quickly become counter-productive. On occasion it’s downright unhealthy. If the truth be told, I have come to realize I am sacrificing much too much of what I know to be really important to me to something akin to an addiction to the internet.

Once I realized what was going on, I thought to myself, “Oh, I’ll just quit!” Cue a weird sort of grief that seemed to come over me as I considered the losses of not being constantly connected to others via email, text and social media.

After a week or so of angst, I finally came to terms with what I need to do. Rather than abstaining from all things internet (which simply is not possible!), I came to realize it’s actually about balance. Figuring out the right balance in each area of my internet use then became my focus. Now what I know is if I don’t make a conscious effort to figure out the right balance for me and then work to hold myself to what I deem it to be, life as I want it to be will be lost. No more will I succumb mindlessly to the seemingly innocent call of the internet. I’m taking back my life and making sure I live it exactly as I want it to be.

First a Quote

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”    Henry David ThoreauWalden


Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle.

Alone Together:  Why we Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, by Sherry Turkle.

(In the spirit of simplicity and reclaiming, I am purposely omitting the Lessons and Habits portion of my blog. If you would like to talk about this topic and how to figure out the right internet balance for you, I welcome a phone call!)


Suits: It.Keeps.Coming.Up.


Until Prince Harry proposed to Meghan Markle I had never even heard of the TV show “Suits.”  Now, I confess, my husband and I are just shy of binge watching yet another series.  Let’s just say it is our way of winding down after a busy day and has nothing to do with whether “My Purse Still Fits.”  (cough, cough…)

But I digress. The point of this post is about something I notice that keeps coming up.  Whether it is Harvey or Louis (two of the protagonists in “Suits”) or my family, friends or clients, I keep seeing or hearing about the struggle that occurs when someone gets triggered and then thinks and/or behaves in less than constructive ways.  And though I am eager to write of other things, I have a sense this topic is begging for some more attention.  So here is another round for your consideration.  It starts with a couple of scenes from “Suits” and concludes with some questions and insights that have emerged from the collective conversations I have had with others.

Scenes from “Suits”

In season 7, episode 10 of “Suits,” there are two particularly intense scenes where Louis lashes out at an associate. He is unbelievably harsh and condescending and his verbal assault ultimately results in a harassment suit being filed against him.  In short, Louis is on the brink of being fired.  In deep indignation, and also out of desperation, Louis goes to see his therapist.  His therapist, who has an ongoing role on the show, supports and encourages Louis to look within for the real cause of his outburst.  Because of their exchange, Louis is able to see what is going on for him and take ownership for his behavior.  His demeanor shifts and in the next scene, he goes to see the associate to apologize.

It is a very moving scene.  In it, Louis tells the associate how deeply sorry he is for how he treated her. Because he is finally willing to be vulnerable, he also shares what is going on in his life that caused his extremely inappropriate behavior.  After hearing his perspective, and accepting his heart-felt apology, the associate shares her perspective too. Louis then comes to understand how what he did deeply offended and hurt her – even more than he originally surmised.  And because of this exchange, they come to see one another in a different light and their relationship is back on track.

Though this brief paragraph doesn’t begin to do the scene justice, it validates a deeply-held value of mine.  I believe when two people are willing to take the risk of being vulnerable, when they allow themselves to have a heart-felt conversation, when they speak and uphold one another in a respectful manner, when they can share their perspectives and own their mistakes – all while showing kindness and compassion to one another – it leads to deeper connections and healthier, more satisfying relationships.  (And yes, being able to show up in that way is a very tall order, particularly when coming on the heels of a triggered event.  I am reminded once again how blessed I am to have a husband who shares this value with me and is consistently able to show up in this way!)

Several years ago I asked my coach if the goal of being grounded, centered and present was to never get triggered.  She assured me the answer was no.  Now, instead of hoping to never be triggered, I find it’s a lot less daunting to focus instead on resilience and recovery. Today I work hard to make friends with those times when I or those around me are triggered; to see those moments as my teacher instead of something to dread.  If I can pause and reflect, there is always much to learn, and even more to gain, once I have come to understand what is beneath the trigger.  From this place, more constructive thoughts and better behavioral choices become available to me and a new wisdom becomes part of who I am.

First a Couple Quotes

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Helen Keller

“When people can tell the truth and people can hear the truth, it is a holy moment.”  George Peabody

So now, dear reader, it’s your turn.  Below are some questions for you to reflect upon.  If you are the journaling sort, all the better.

Questions for Reflection:  Finding Your Wisdom

Think of a recent time when you were triggered. What circumstances or people cause a triggered reaction in you?

Note:  If any of the below are going on for you, it may set you up for the possibility of reacting from your less than best self.  See if any of these compounded the situation:

  • Lack of sleep, being over-tired or hungry.
  • Experiencing high stress or time pressures.
  • Carrying underlying feelings of inadequacy.
  • Unresolved past experiences that can re-surface from today’s unrelated reminders (particularly experiences of trauma and loss).
  • What else sets you up?

When you get triggered (and we all do!), what are some of the things you think or do? Indicators that you are triggered can include outward and/or inward reactions.

Outward Reactions

  • Speaking down to others in sarcastic, condescending, cynical or critical ways.
  • Outbursts of anger or emotion, such as shouting or tears.
  • Laughing nervously or when your voice becomes high-pitched or strained.
  • Becoming a whirling dervish, knocking over anyone in your way.  Usually this reaction is marked by impatience and a curt demeanor that gives everyone the message you don’t value them or want to be around them.
  • Body language that speaks volumes: Wringing your hands, bouncing your leg or a folding up of your body in attempt to make yourself smaller?

Inward Reactions 

  • Withdrawing from others.
  • Ruminating about what a horrible person you are, or they are, or how awful your life is.
  • Becoming more self-loathing, self-critical to the point of diminishing your self-esteem.  (Note:  This happens to a lot of women I know every time they look in the mirror or step on the scales…)
  • Experiencing depression, sadness, anxiety and worry.
  • Having knots in your stomach, tension headaches or other physical reactions.

How do you want to think and behave during triggered and trying times? What matters to you about what you are thinking and how you show up in your interactions with others and life?

What is the difference in your behavior when you react vs. when you respond from your wisest self, aligned with your values and with what you know to be important to you?

What do you do that helps you recover, bounce back and be more resilient?  (Hint:  It takes practice, practice, practice….)

Lessons, Insights and Perspective:  The Stuff Beneath Our Triggers

As you continue to reflect, note whether any of the reasons below speak to the deeper reasons you get triggered.  (Be assured, you are quite normal even if all apply to you!)

  • Your identity, who you know or define yourself to be is questioned, threatened or mislabeled.

In the book “Difficult Conversations,” this is known as the identity conversation. At times like this the voice inside you head will pummel you with questions like “Do they see me as capable and worthy of my job?”  or bigger still, “Am I worthy of  love?” (And they say if this is happening, the difficult conversation is actually one you need to have  with yourself.  I agree!)

  • Much like the chicken or egg thing, what comes first for you, the triggering event or voice inside your head that too often points out your [imagined] inadequacies?
  • A deeply-held value is violated.

For example, if you value being treated with respect (who doesn’t?) and find yourself in a situation where you, or someone else, is not being treated respectfully, it can cause a triggered reaction.

  • Whether consciously or not, a current circumstance can remind you of a defining past event or life experience. Then something occurs in the moment and, like a bolt of lightning, it goes deep into your body or psyche, finds the old wound and causes a triggered reaction.
  • Often, we become unhinged by a fear. (i.e., a fear of being wrong, fear of failure, fear of being “found out,” fear of being embarrassed or even a fear of success.)
  • What else might be true for you and be beneath your  trigger?  

Note:  Sometimes we may not even know or be aware of what is really going on. All we know, in hindsight, is we reacted in less than stellar ways.  Think of it as a clue…

Now What?

  1. It is easy to lose sight of both our own and others’ perspective when we are triggered.  Exploring perspectives puts a new light on everything!  (See Resources below for more on these first three in “Changing on the Job.”)
  2. Ask different questions.  (Play with it and I think you’ll see what I mean.)
  3. Seeing systems.  (Think bigger picture and polarities.)
  4. Having someone in a supportive role (friend, family, coach or therapist) can help us find our way out of the dilemmas our triggered behaviors can create.  What’s important is to not stay stuck in the story of what happened and instead look to understand cause and solutions.
  5. Think about why this happened and what thoughts or behaviors could move you towards what is important to you. (See Resources below on Acceptance, Commitment Therapy, which is a great model as you consider this move. )
  6. Allow room for the possibility that your reaction was appropriate, given the circumstances.


Mindfulness or “Centering” practices come up in all of my posts.  Please trust me on this one!


  • Difficult Conversations, How to Say What Matters Most, by Douglas Stone and Bruce Patton.
  • Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex Worldby Jennifer Garvey Berger.
  • Polarity Management:  Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems, by Barry Johnson.
  • Brief Interventions for a Radical Change, by Kirk Stroshal and Patricia Robertson.
  • ACT Made Simple, by Russ Harris.






Trapped in an Avalanche…

Who would have thought we would be trapped in a “snow storm” on Bald Head Island???  For those of you not from around these parts, BHI is a short ferry ride off the southern coast of NC.  And trapped we are, as the ferry is not running and there is no way to get off the island until potentially mid-day tomorrow.  There appears to be an inch or so of ice on the ground, though very little snow…

Meanwhile, all this trapped-ness got me thinking about avalanches (you never know…) and reminded me of something I learned watching Season 3 of Madam Secretary. (Yes, this was before swearing-off my binge watching…).  Did you know that if you get buried in an avalanche, one of the secrets to survival is to spit?  Apparently, when you are swept up in an avalanche you completely lose your bearings.  By spitting, you are able to determine which way is “up” and can start digging your way up and out.  Good to know!!!

It’s pretty safe to say the probability of an avalanche, much less having to dig out of one, particularly on BHI, is essentially zero according to my husband, the statistician.  Still, the thoughts of snow and avalanches and spitting did metaphorically bring something to mind that has come up before in my blog and is likely true for all of us. Triggering events can be like an avalanche of sorts and cause even the best of us to get angry, overwhelmed, emotional or upset; to lose our bearings, so to speak.  And then, instead of being able to choose our response, we react.  We say things we later regret, we cry, we storm around and potentially create yet another avalanche with our reaction.  Truth be told, our reaction, much like spitting, comes from deep down inside us and is borne of the instinct to survive. (Just so you know, why we do this can be traced back to worms, exoskeletons and the neuroscience of it all; the details of which I will spare you for now.)

Obviously, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in my life thinking about triggered behaviors, both mine and others’.  I used to think if I were to get good at recognizing my triggers I would someday be able to say “I never get triggered and I certainly never spit!” (Admittedly that was a stretch goal…)  Lately, I have become more reasonable in my expectations of myself; a bit kinder and gentler, if you will.  Now my goals are less about never being triggered and more about learning how to right myself when I am overwhelmed or out of sorts.

So how do I come back to center during times of stress or duress?  How do I respond from a grounded place, clear about my choices and aligned and congruent with who I want to be?  These questions come up nearly everyday in my life or the lives of people with whom I work.  Quite frankly, these kinds of questions are why I started this blog.

First a Quote:

“Life is too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right. Forget about those who don’t. Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.”
― Harvey MacKay

Being able to right myself, being grounded, centered and present, especially during times of stress, is no easy feat.  I promise the journey is so worth it.  See if any of the below could help you as much as it has helped me:

Lessons (in the form of Steps) and Habits (in the form of examples):

Step I:  Identify your triggers.

  • Nothing gets under my skin more than when my deeply held values are violated.
    • For example, when I witness, or am on the receiving end, of someone being treated with disrespect. Examples of this are in the news every day.
  • High stress deadlines, too much noise and chaos, lack of sleep or food can all be precursors to a triggered reaction.

Step II:  Identify your range of reactions.  i.e., What are the things you tend to think or do when  you are triggered?

  • I generate (in my mind and sometimes on paper!) a long list of all the things the offender does or has done, things that are just wrong or annoy the heck out of me.
  • I may respond in righteous indignation, pushing back vehemently on the offender.
  • Or I may withdraw, putting some distance between me and the other person for awhile. This habit can be a good thing, serving both me and the other person, if I am gathering my thoughts regarding how I can most appropriately respond.  What’s limiting about this habit is when I don’t invest the time or energy to find ways to resolve the conflict or the cause of my initial reaction.
  • If I am grounded,  centered and present, I can simply say what’s true for me.

Step III:  (Re)Commit  to who you want to be.

  • I want to be supportive, open and compassionate to those closest to me, especially when we don’t see eye to eye.
  • I want to honor and uphold my values, but not in a righteous or indignant way.
  • I want to refrain from blaming the offender for making me do work I’d rather not have to do.  Yes, life would be so much easier if they would stop the offensive behavior, but the truth is my reaction or what I need to “do” isn’t about them, it’s about me.

Step IV:  Move beyond the cognitive and engage your body.

  • Instead of sitting with the thoughts spinning in my head, I make a “PAC-MAN” like move with my hand that represents a nipping in the bud of the unhelpful spinning. (For those not familiar, imagine a tapping of 3 fingers on your thumb.)  It really helps, if for no other reason than it makes me laugh at the visual it creates!  Soon enough, what I notice is the negative thoughts and energy dissipate, which is the real intention of this move, and I can think more clearly as to how I want to respond – or not.
  • Identify practices that help bring you back to Center, as mentioned in every blog to date…

Step V:  Self-observe and repeat Steps I-IV the rest of your life.

Here’s to digging out in the morning – and to the ferry running again!




My Purse Still Fits….

As I wind down from a fun-filled holiday, I am relieved to report my purse still fits.  I think that is a good thing, especially after enjoying an abundance of Christmas treats and consuming my fair share of some really wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon…

You see, I have been thinking about 2018 and what fits and what does not fit in terms of how I want to live each day in the coming year.  I want  the behaviors I “wear” to be truly aligned with what is most important to me; to be more comfortable, if you will.  After taking stock, here is what comes to mind:

What Does Not Fit:

It does not fit to rush around trying to do more in a day than a reasonable human would do in three.

It does not fit to live on my computer, IPad or phone 10-12 hours a day.

It does not fit to miss opportunities to spend quality time with family and friends.

It does not fit to binge watch West Wing, The Crown or Madam Secretary until 2 am, thus missing out on the sleep my body needs to  properly recover before the dawn of another new day.

(Yes, that is a bit of a confession….).

It does not fit to miss my walk, yoga or trip to the gym for [fill in the blank].

It does not fit to make food choices without thinking about my longer-term goals.

It does not fit to worry excessively about things outside my control.

It does not fit to take responsibility for life choices belonging to others.

It does not fit to take on or wear the negative energy of others as they deal with their own struggles and challenges.

What Fits:

It fits to listen, empathize and be present with others in their time of need.

It also fits that I get to decide what healthy boundaries look like for me.

It fits that I remain vigilant in balancing work, family, friends and fitness in ways defined best by me/what is important to me.

This year it will also fit for me find more time to pursue my creative interests like entertaining, cooking, leisure reading, and handmade crafts.

It fits, in the most sleek and elegant ways, that I manage my time mindfully, with a conscious awareness of what is important to me as I live and choose wisely each and every day.

Most important of all, it fits to be grateful for my many blessings:  my precious family, my cherished friends and my amazing clients. Oh yes, and I am definitely grateful my two-year-old Michael Kors purse still fits.  I really didn’t want to have to buy a new one….

(P.S. I invite you to add your comments below as to what fits or does not fit for you!)

My Habits:

(See “What Does Not Fit” above….)

My Lessons:

  1. (See “What Fits” above….)
  2. I want to pay close attention to the signals my body gives me (i.e., a tightness in my shoulders, a knot in my stomach or an adrenaline surge, etc.), which will help me know when I am taking on too much. (i.e., too many tasks, too much responsibility for others, etc.)
  3. I want to keep in mind Stephen Covey’s time management lessons on the “Urgent and Important.” (See link below.) In short, while Urgent and Important things “act upon us” (i.e.,  crying babies or an urgent work crisis), we have to “act upon” the Not-Urgent and Important things (i.e., relationship building, planning and true recreation.).
  4. With just a wee bit of planning, I can make it my norm to prepare and cook healthy, tasty meals and snacks and save eating out for only 2-3 meals a week.


  1. Remember to come back to Center multiple times a day, which will help in the moment of choice.
  2. Keep up with my fitness and yoga practices.
  3. Create a small notebook of quick, easy “go to” meals, complete with shopping lists for each, that are healthy, tasty and filling.



Pain’s Saving Grace

It is that time of year where the Christmas cards extol the accomplishments of the year and social media captures the merry gatherings of families and friends. It all makes me smile as I imagine each occasion and the love upon which all the traditions have been built.

As Christmas draws near, I want to also take a moment to acknowledge the parts of the year that we may not see so publicly, but know to be true as well.  I want to embrace the moments marked with pain, sorrow and sadness and give them their place along with the rest.  My experience tells me when we can see the painful parts of life for what they are (inevitable), their hold is lessened, their truth more gently felt and the gift of wisdom becomes  pain’s saving grace.


My Practice

On Christmas our family honors those no longer with us by joining hands and softly singing “Silent Night.”

It is always poignant and beautiful.



Dealing with Stormy Colleagues

It is not uncommon for my coaching clients to be challenged by someone whose stormy behavior creates chaos in their heads, hearts and organizations. Here’s Monica’s story for your consideration. (Not her real name.)

When our call began, Monica said she was struggling with a colleague, Fredrick, who worked in a neighboring European country.  Monica and Fredrick held high level positions in their organization and it was imperative that they collaborate effectively in order to achieve significant organizational results. Monica found herself increasingly frustrated with her colleague because his behaviors fell far short of being collaborative. Her assessment was he vacillated between being loud, dominating, disrespectful, petulant, excessively critical and blatantly condescending.  Fredrick’s mood was often stormy and difficult and it was not uncommon for both Monica and her junior female colleagues to be on the receiving end of his outbursts and rants.  Monica felt especially protective of the more vulnerable younger women with whom she worked.

Monica wanted to focus our call on preparing for an upcoming leadership team meeting, as it was a pretty safe bet Fredrick was going to misbehave. Monica knew she couldn’t control Fredrick; what she wanted to figure out was how to maintain her composure in those moments when she felt triggered by him.

First, we explored what about Fredrick’s behavior caused her angst.  By looking at what was going on inside of her, we could get a better sense of what caused her reactions.  As we talked, Monica realized her issues arose because Fredrick’s behaviors were actually a threat to one or more of the “essential nutrients” crucial to all of us:  safety, connection and dignity/respect.  Here’s what each looked like for her:


  • Monica felt if she was not able to maintain her composure when Fredrick lost his, then her reputation and credibility would be at risk.
  • Because Fredrick repeatedly refused to collaborate, Monica felt the project was constantly in jeopardy. If this project failed, there was a chance the company would fail.  And if the company failed, Monica would not have a job.  (Monica is a single Mom and the sole provider for her three children.)
  • Fredrick also had the ear of their boss. She wondered if he could compromise her career with irrational complaints about her.


  • Monica valued working with her colleagues to achieve success and find solutions for any roadblocks that arose. The deep connection that comes from solving problems in ways that everyone wins made the difference in work being a joy vs. something to dread.  Sadly, Fredrick resisted any attempts Monica made to work together to solve the problems that were plaguing the project.


  • Fredrick’s behavior often bumped into Monica’s deeply held values about how one should behave and how others should be treated.
  • More importantly, her standards about how she wanted to be treated were repeatedly compromised.

Next Monica needed to get clear about what mattered to her about her behavior.  Who did she want to be as a leader?  How did she want to be seen when there were moments of tension?  Monica was wise enough to know success had to be about her and what she could control and not her difficult colleague or his behaviors.  Knowing these things enabled Monica to articulate exactly what success meant to her.

Now all Monica needed to figure out was how to create enough space between Fredrick’s behavior and her response for her to be be able to choose responses that aligned with her definition of success vs. just react. Monica and I talked abut the signals her body gave her in moments of conflict.  Some of her body clues included a flushing or heat in her neck and face, tightness in her throat, a knot in her stomach and tension across her shoulders. Monica knew these would be her first clues that her body was noticing something that could help inform her brain. Her body would likely be the first to know when there was a threat to her essential nutrients.  With that early wisdom she would have a bit more time to be able to choose her response.

Monica was now as prepared as she could be for the upcoming meeting. She understood what was behind her reactions to Fredrick, what was important to her as a leader and how to tune in to her body. She felt grounded, centered and equipped to face whatever played out in the meeting.

Monica’s Habits:

  1. Too often Monica worried if others would agree with her assessment of Fredrick. That second guessing kept her from asserting herself when she needed to.
  2. Often, she would get stuck wondering “what am I doing wrong that causes him to behave this way?”
  3. Historically she would either completely withdraw from the conversation or push back vehemently, escalating the tension.

Monica’s Lessons:

  • Over time, Monica came to realize part of her struggle was about trusting her ability to assess a situation objectively.

Being objective meant not only looking for data that supports her belief or hypothesis about someone, but also other data too.  With more complete data she could look for patterns and decide the right course of action for her.

  • Monica knew she had to stay vigilant with her practices if she wanted to be able to respond appropriately in the moment when things became chaotic.
  • Learning about threats to safety, connection and dignity/respect helped Monica stop second guessing herself. Rather than seeing herself as inadequate, it now made sense as to why she got triggered.

Monica’s Practices:

Here are some things Monica practiced both saying and embodying so that she would be centered and calm in the heat of the moment. She wanted to demonstrate an openness and curiosity about Fredrick while also not letting him bully her or others in the room:

“Could you repeat that please?” (It is very difficult for someone who is ranting to repeat the rant with the same drama and intensity a second time and not look like, well, an idiot.)

“What is it about this conversation that makes you respond in that way?” (This could help Fredrick articulate what is behind his rant, which may have merit and be better heard and understood if he improved his delivery…)

“We have two things in front of us right now. One is the content of this discussion and the other is your behavior, which is getting in the way of our discussing the content constructively.  Rather than being distracted by your behavior, could we agree to continue with the content discussion in a more reasonable way?”

Equally important was for Monica to be prepared for the fact that no matter what she said or how she said it, it was very likely Fredrick would not be able to shift to more appropriate behavior during the meeting. He had shown many times he had a habit of being this way and it likely had served him in some way in the past, thus becoming a habit.

Monica knew her biggest challenge if she chose to say any of the above would be to do so without judgment or shame.

Monica continued her Centering practice every day so her body could call on the “muscle memory” of the calm state it creates for her.

During the meeting Monica also practiced Box Breathing to help her maintain her composure:

  • Inhale deep belly breaths for 4 counts.
  • Hold for 4 counts.
  • Exhale for 4 counts.
  • Hold for 4 counts.
  • Repeat as often as necessary.


  1. Embodied Leadership, by Pete Hamill.
  2. Difficult Conversations, How to Say What Matters Most, by Douglas Stone and Bruce Patton.

The Legacy of Trauma

I’ve stopped watching the news on TV.   Most days I barely even read the news on my IPad, much less look at a newspaper.  From the horror of Las Vegas to the destruction of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, it seems trauma and suffering are everywhere.  (And that’s just on this side of the world.)  I can only imagine the impact of these and the many other current events on all those involved and what they will face in the coming months and years.  The road to recovery will be long and likely overwhelming for many.   My heart hurts for them all.

Whether or not you have faced a trauma of the magnitude of what is in the news, I would venture to say trauma and suffering touches us all.  I see evidence of it in my coaching practice, in my friends, my family and myself.  Because of what I have seen and experienced, I have devoted hours and hours to reading, research and classes on the topic of trauma, suffering and recovery.  Please note:  I am not a psychologist or therapist, nor do I intend to imply I am expert on this topic.  Like all my posts, I am simply sharing what I have learned thus far.  I trust you to decide for yourself whether anything here has relevance for you.

Most of the trauma I see in my coaching practice is the result of dealing with difficult people (i.e., a toxic boss or co-worker, someone who is psychologically unsound, a difficult spouse or divorce, etc.).  My personal traumas have also included a wide-spread forest fire which destroyed our property and threatened the safety of our home; three separate, accidental deaths of my cousins who were brothers and with whom I was very close; a suicide attempt by a close family member; and most recently, the horrific death of my 33-year-old niece who was shot in the back while trying to run away from a 25-year-old stalker.  I expect you have had traumas in your life too.  Given there are plenty of stories about trauma and suffering, I am going to go straight to the habits, lessons and practices most relevant for this post.

My Habits (which have served me some of the time and limited me others):

  •  I have a tendency to minimize or even ignore the traumas I have experienced, wanting to demonstrate only strength and courage.  I turn my focus to taking care of everyone else.
  • I do not like to get too close to, much less share with anyone else, my symptoms of trauma, especially sadness and loss.  While I might talk about the story, I won’t talk about how I feel about the story.  I loath to burden others with my troubles.
  • In trying too hard to understand others’ perspectives (with or without engaging them in the conversation), I have second-guessed myself and diminished, or even lost sight of, what matters to me.  Consequently, more than once I have missed opportunities to speak my truth with grace, in a grounded and centered way.  By the time I owned my truth, grace and grounded-ness were nowhere near my grasp.
  • Too often I have been overly critical of myself.  At other times, I found myself angry at others or the circumstances and, initially at least, unable to show compassion for the humanness of everyone involved, myself included.
  • In the past I have allowed too many people into my inner circle or let them remain too long and for the wrong reasons.


  • The impact of a trauma is unique to the individual and may depend on their resilience in addition to the severity of the event.  Examples of the more severe traumas include physical or sexual abuse; environmental disasters; being in an accident that could have resulted in death; witnessing a loved one’s illness and death; the tragic, unexpected death of a close friend or family member; and trauma from experiences, at home or at war, that result in PTSD.  There are many more.
  • Other life events may or may not be labeled as a trauma but can still leave an indelible mark on us, leading to tremendous suffering and pain.  Examples include verbal and emotional abuse; the ending of a significant relationship (romantic partner, spouse or friend); a toxic manager or coworker; a sudden unexpected job loss; not being emotionally seen, heard or supported by someone close to you; betrayal of a close friend or family member; being rejected for who you are or your life choices; bullying; financial insecurities; the loss of one’s home, whether to fire, flood or foreclosure; being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease; and parenting challenges such as children with mental health or addiction issues.  One key message is any of these (or any other example) could be experienced as severe traumas as well.  There is no clear line of demarcation; only the person experiencing it can know and judge the impact of their circumstances.
  • When I see or hear any of the following, I wonder if they are symptoms of unresolved trauma:

Sadness and tears, depression.

Triggered reactions or behaviors that don’t fit the circumstances or cannot be controlled, even when control is deeply desired.

Telling the same stories over and over again. (I call this “spinning.”)

Being stuck, not being able to move forward, or not knowing what to do.

Perpetual busy-ness, as being busy helps occupy the mind and numb the lingering effects of unresolved trauma.

  • Where our habits (the way we are in the world) usually evolve as coping mechanisms developed over time, the impact of trauma and the habits that subsequently become a part of us can be immediate.
  • We need to learn to call a trauma what it is, to be honest about and own the impact of trauma on our lives.  Be forewarned:  Our Western culture does not make this easy!
  • We put ourselves through a tremendous amount of pain trying to avoid pain.

In my experience, many of us minimize or try to cope our way through trauma and suffering without truly recognizing or acknowledging its impact.

Many more of us try to bury our trauma and suffering and/or deal with it on our own vs. seeking support through family, friends or qualified professionals.

Some of us exhaust our friends by bringing up the situation over and over again without effort towards, or evidence of, forward progress.

Sadly, when we try to minimize the impact a situation or event has on us, it seems to me we are actually perpetuating the trauma.  It’s like we are not seeing, hearing or honoring ourselves with regard to our experience.

In avoiding the pain, the resulting consequence of the trauma and suffering is compounded.  The effects of the trauma will then linger on indefinitely, in unhealthy or damaging ways.

  • We need to not be afraid to talk about it with the right people It bears repeating:  Our Western culture does not make this easy!

In processing and recovering from trauma, I have read there is a difference in whether the trauma occurred in childhood or adulthood.  It makes sense that the resolution is more difficult if a trauma occurred in childhood.  Children do not possess coping or communication skills needed to process trauma.  Sadly, and too often, the trauma for children comes from someone in the family, someone with whom they should be safe.  Thus, they may have nowhere to turn.

Finding the modality that works to resolve trauma (one source actually referred to it as “cure”) can certainly be a challenge.  Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has my interest and attention right now.

Modality is less relevant than the relationship with the person providing the treatment or support.  Though they may be a therapist whose emphasis is one of a multitude of modalities, they could also be a minister, teacher, coach or friend.

  • It is of paramount importance to have an “inner circle” of family and/or friends.  Define and build yours accordingly.  (See Practices: “Their Place at Your Table” below for a way forward on this.)
  • The fact that the trauma occurred does not go away.  We must be able to process it and recover from it if we want to manage its ongoing impact on our lives.  I believe true healing requires compassion for self and others too.  This bears repeating over and over again too.

The purpose of finding your compassion is not to make a trauma-inducing behavior acceptable.  Rather, it is to help you be more kind to yourself, to take a stand for yourself when necessary and move past what happened.

Equally important, compassion will help us all be present with others who are living through the lens of their own trauma, who want desperately to integrate and move past the experience.  Compassion helps us all make the world a better place.

  • Somatic work can help, perhaps even more so than the cognitive (thinking or talking) in the recovery from trauma.

Suggested Practices:

  • Get clear about, articulate and uphold your boundaries, both in terms of how you are treated and who is in your inner circle.
  • Take up calming, compassion and resilience building somatic practices like yoga or QiGong.
  • Weave meditation, breathing or centering practices into every day.
  • Complete the exercise, “Their Place at Your Table,” as a way to define your inner circle, as well as other groups of people in your life.
    • Draw a bullseye.
    • The center of the bullseye is you.
      • Think about the personal traits you want to demonstrate every day and in every choice you make.  It may help to start with “I am someone who….”
      • Reflect on how you are doing on each trait. It may be helpful to ask your inner circle what they see.  (See Resources:  How Will You Measure Your Life?)
    • The next ring out is your inner circle.
      • Name the behavioral indicators of someone who sees you, hears you, honors you, believes in you and supports you.
      • These are the people with whom you are always safe, physically and emotionally.
      • This is also the group with whom you are willing to devote energy to protect the relationships.
      • Consider this group sacred. Once defined, you may find there are some people who are in this group but should not be. Hopefully your significant other is in this group. Think carefully about the people you consider a part of this sacred space and be honest with yourself.
    • Name the remaining groups of people in your life and place them in the appropriate rings as you move away from the center…

(Email for the full template of this activity.)


The Body Keeps the Score: Brain Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk M.D.

Getting Past your Past: Take Control of Your life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy, Francine Sharpiro, PhD.

Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men, Lundy Bancroft.

I Don’t Want to Talk about It; Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, Terrance Real.

How Will You Measure Your Life?, Clayton M. Christensen.

The Body is Your Brain, a course with Amanda Blake who founded Embright, Your Brilliance Embodied.

Toxic Coworkers: How to Deal with Dysfunctional People on the Job, Alan A. Cavaiola, Ph.D., Neil J. Lavender, Ph.D.





Kemba the Wonder Dog

Meet Kemba. Kemba is our German Shepherd Dog (GSD), often referred to around here as “Kemba the Wonder Dog.”

Kemba is a petite GSD, relatively speaking, and our friend Rick says she is proof that gender transcends all species.  Kemba eats daintily and is gentle, nurturing and kind.  But be forewarned, Kemba has a protective side too. She stays on high alert for perpetrators to those of us she perceives as more vulnerable, like babies, the elderly and of course, me.  All bets are off if Kemba thinks that any of those she has chosen to protect may be in harm’s way.  If another dog approaches us on our walks in a seemingly aggressive way (i.e., if they so much as look at us), or the UPS guy simply rings the door bell, Kemba turns into a beast.  It’s all out “full protection mode” as she barks ferociously, teeth bared and hair on end.  She basically terrifies anyone nearby.  Though it might be great if I truly was coming into harm’s way, most of the time Kemba’s reaction is way over-blown for the circumstances. <sigh>  Such is life with a GSD.

Kemba and I go on long walks almost every day. In addition to being my guard dog and protector, Kemba has another very important purpose for our walks. She is determined to slowly and thoroughly sniff every leaf, twig or blade of grass over which any other creature in the animal kingdom has crossed.  I, on the other hand, am out for a fitness walk.  For me, that means we need to go as fast as possible, covering as much distance as possible in as little time as possible.  Thus, when Kemba’s radar is pinging from one thing to another, it can become painfully tedious for me to stop and wait for her every few steps as she completes her sniffing ritual. I  confess I sometimes even get a bit annoyed.  I often think or say, “For goodness sake, Kemba, can we just goooooo…?????”   (Insert any relevant emoticons here, lol.)

Which leads me to the point of this post.  It occurs to me people get stuck when they approach differences through the lens of their conflicting purposes, or positions.  In our story above, Kemba’s position is she wants to sniff.  My position is I want to walk fast. To move beyond positions, minimize frustration and more successfully resolve our conflict, Kemba and I will need to talk about what is behind our positions, to share one another’s interests. Thus, if Kemba could talk, she would tell me her interests include wanting to sniff in part because it’s a form of mental stimulation.  For her, sniffing is a way to assesses her environment. It gives her important information and supports her survival and maybe even mine too, given she sees herself as my protector. Meanwhile, I want to walk fast because I want to be fit and to age well.  If Kemba and I talked about our interests, we would likely find it quite interesting that, though our positions are different, our interests are actually very similar. Ironically, we share an interest of enhancing our chance of survival! If Kemba and I were two humans and if we were willing to look beyond our conflicting positions and focus instead on understanding one another’s interests, we would very likely be able find a solution that works for both of us.  In the case of Kemba and me, one solution has been to use a retractable leash, which gives Kemba a longer runway when she stops to sniff.  The other is to take her off leash occasionally, as I am confident in her dedication to me and to staying pretty close to my side.

Today’s take-aways:

My Habit:

  1. There are times when I may be standing firmly in my position without consciously knowing, much less clarifying with others, my interests.
  2. I miss opportunities to ask others about their interests and particularly need to refrain from assuming I already know what matters to them.

My Lessons:

  1. Clarifying my interests is important when I am frustrated.  It may require slowing down long enough to go below the surface and figure out what really matters to me.
  2. People often avoid talking about what is true for them. They fear being vulnerable and opening themselves to ridicule, judgment or attack.
  3. I could have less stress and less conflict in my life if I were to look for, listen to and be open to understanding both my own and other’s interests.

My Practices:

  1. Notice when there is a positional conflict and create the space to have a conversation that focuses on understanding the interests behind the positions.
  2. Yoga is new to me this year. I want to be intentional in slowing down, opening up and balancing my life.  Before each yoga session I want to state my commitment to take things a bit more slowly, a bit more reflectively with more openness to where others are and where they may be in any given interaction.


Book: Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury








The Stories We Tell Ourselves

At a recent funeral of a family member, I found myself  reconnecting with someone who had come to show his respect for my family, someone with whom I had not spoken in several years. Though we had a very pleasant conversation at the funeral, I couldn’t help but be reminded of some of the more tense ones we had in the past. Later that evening as I was reflecting on the day, I was suddenly struck by how this person had hugged me, both in his initial greeting and again later as he was saying goodbye. Each time, as his arms went around my shoulders, he leaned in with his right shoulder and seemed to create a barrier or block. It was unnatural and noticeably different from his hugs in the past, and I couldn’t help but wonder what this new version was really about. Was he still trying to “win,” even after all this time? I had so hoped we had finally made our peace…

As I pondered, it wasn’t long before I was quite sure there was intentionality and a not-so-subtle message in the hugs.  As my annoyance grew, I considered sending a text to call out the behavior and let him know I was on to his game. But I was also perplexed. Our conversation that day was quite cordial and even kind-hearted. Why the mixed message?  So,  before sending my indignant text, I thought I would first try and recreate the so called ‘hug’ and see how he could have intentionally done it – TWICE.

As I draped my arms around an imaginary me, I realized I needed to bend my right knee slightly so my right shoulder would lean in and re-create the perceived block. At the same time, my left knee had to be locked and straight.  Yep, that was the move! If creating some sort of block was his intention, this move was definitely repeatable!

And then it hit me. I remembered hearing he had knee replacement surgery a year or so ago. Could it be he simply couldn’t comfortably bend his left knee so that his hug would be more natural?

Oh my.  I sure am glad I didn’t send that righteous text.

My habit:

  • I have a habit of taking action. Had I sent the text immediately, my habit would have been controlling the situation. My choice in how I could behave would have been limited.

My lessons:

  • It’s amazing how our stories, fueled by our history and more by our imagination, can so quickly become distorted truths.
  • How important it is to notice how those perceived truths can influence our behaviors and create a dynamic that can quickly take us off course.
  • Sometimes I just need to wait….

My practice:

  • When ever I find myself jumping to conclusions, I want to practice thinking of 3 possible stories that make the other person good instead of bad.
  • Be honest – could any of them be true?
  • What are the implications?
  • If I chose to act, what behavior best aligns with who I want to be?