Monday, November 8, 2010

Obsession-Be-Gone - The story of one man's fight with his fight against bed bugs

Bed bugs are a problem in New York City (the NY Times ran four articles about them last month alone). So it came as no surprise when Barry started talking with me about his obsession with protecting his family from them.

He'd heard the horror stories from two close friends - about how the exterminators would come, but the bugs would stay. Of people leaving the city entirely after moving from an infested apartment, only to have the new apartment also be infested (the new landlord painted over the walls and didn't mention the issue).

Determined to avoid such a disaster in his home, in April, Barry started to insist that everyone put their bags and shoes into large plastic bins in the entry. He would also vacuum his home three times a week - not only would he vacuum behind the sofa cushions, he would unzip and vacuum the inside of them as well (just in case!). And it went on from there. All this felt like the sane thing to do in the face of a pesky danger to his son.

The problem was that the behavior was starting to feel obsessive - and ineffectual. The friends of his 7 year-old son who had been exposed to bed bugs would play in the apartment. The walls could develop a crack from where the bugs could seep in. There were too many variables. Too many possibilities that something could creep in. Even Barry's son started calling him obsessed and asked him to chill out. (His wife was lovingly accommodating, but still shook her head in wonder.)

This was the situation where Barry approached me. Between half-hearted jokes about his behavior, he mentioned that he'd like to stop. There's no point in trying to make a shift if a shift isn't desired. So I asked him directly, "Which is it? Do you want the behavior or do you want to stop?"

Had he said that he wanted to maintain the behavior, I would have gone along with it and enjoyed his company for the rest of the evening (Barry's a very funny guy). But as it was, he became somber and concerned. Barry said he really did want to change - even his 7 year-old was acting more mature and calling him out on odd behavior - but didn't know how.

I asked him:
Why do you want to stop? 
What do you get out of the behavior? 
How else can you get it? 
What's next (or even more important)?

As a result, Barry realized that he was spending more time and energy worrying about bed bugs than if he actually got them. Even though he could try to protect his son from tiny bites, there were other things that would hurt even more. And the most important lesson he could bestow at this point was that it's possible to get over an obsession and return to normal behavior.

The next day Barry and his son got rid of the bins.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Presentation on 11/18: Giving Thanks to Stress

Just in time for the holidays!

I will be giving a presentation at the New York Society for General Semantics called Giving Thanks to Stress.

Stress is trying to send a message - one of warning, care and protection - that either something you really don't want is happening, or that you're missing something important. During the holidays the messages often come more frequently and more intensely. Unfortunately stress can't say anything out loud. Instead it gets your attention by making you irritable, increasing your heart rate, tensing your muscles and contributing to 90% of visits to primary care physicians. 

When you act on the message that stress is delivering, not only does it go away, it pushes you along the path of living your ideal life. And that's definitely something to be thankful for.

Thursday, Nov. 18th, 6:30pm
45 E. 65th St, NYC (map)
(b/w Park & Madison)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

How long should it take to recover from a car incident?

On the way to her semi-final match Kim Clijsters got into an accident where everyone was okay (the car was totaled). 

Last month I blogged about why time doesn't heal ANY wounds. Clijsters chose to move on right away rather than do the socially appropriate/expected thing of let her thoughts get wrapped up in what just happened. In fact, "Clijsters served more consistently than she had all week" and is about to play in the WTA finals.

Way to set your own mindset and recovery schedule, Kim!

I've been in one major car accident. I was driving in Spain and was broad-sided as I tried to cross a busy intersection. Once I saw that I and everyone else was okay (the cars were totaled), I put my hand on my heart and breathed for a few moments. 

That's all I needed to be present and clear-minded. It was especially useful since the police officers who arrived on the scene pretended they were going to arrest me (no, I hadn't had any alcohol). As a result of my being able to be present and move on from what had just happened, not only was I able to enjoy their joke, I was also able to laugh at the tow truck that ran out of gas as it was about to lift my car.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why time doesn't heal ANY wounds

When someone is suffering emotionally we often try to comfort them by saying "It'll take time," or "Just give it a bit of time."

Unfortunately there's no special quality of time. Time itself doesn't heal wounds. 10 years never saved anyone - it's the new perspectives we discover and accept during those 10 years that makes the difference. They're the ones that helps us realize that things really are releasable.

So what are we really saying when we prescribe time? We're saying that time is what gives us that perspective (or ability to access that perspective) rather than that other perspective is available to us immediately. It may not be evident right away, but don't make your ability to recognize and adopt perspectives time-dependent. That's ceding control of an ability we all have available at any time. And not just any ability, it's the best thing to get you to move on.

What new experience are you waiting for? What are you going to know, feel, see differently later? Different perspectives are there for the taking. Seek them out! Explore them! The end of your suffering may be sooner than you think.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Take Your Pick of Reactions

There are lots of emotional reactions you can choose to respond with at any given situation. One thing is certain - regardless of the situation, stress is never the best reaction - it's just a warning that something needs to change. Heed the warning, then pick a different reaction to continue with.

So go ahead and pick a reaction you you feel would better serve you when you encounter your next "stressful situation." You don't need to pick "the best" reaction, as long as it's better than stress your experience will improve. All it takes to change your reaction is practicing your desired one and a mindset to do so.

Positive Emotional Reactions
Adequate Awe Assured Able
Capable Certain Charmed Cheerful
Comfortable Compassion Courageous Confident
Determined Delighted Eager Energetic
Enthusiastic Excited Exhilarated Expectant
Elation Empathy Excellent Fascinated
Glad Good Great Grateful
Glorious Glamorous Graceful Happy
Hopeful Humorous Inspired Interested
Joyful Magnificent Lust Love
Pleasure Playfulness Peaceful Pleasant
Powerful Prideful Upbeat Relaxed
Relieved Satisfied Surprised Sympathy
Stable Sublime Superior Thrilled
Negative Emotional Reactions
Annoyed Anxious Apprehensive Agonize
Anger Anxiety Apathy Bored
Burdened Cautious Competitive Concerned
Confused Contempt Depressed Destructive
Disgusted Distracted Doubtful Disappointed
Exasperated Exhausted Embarrassment Envy
Frustrated Fear Guilty Greed
Grief Harassed Hesitant Hostile
Ignored Impatient Indifferent Intimidated
Isolated Irritated Jealous Jumpy
Lonely Mad Manipulated Miserable
Obnoxious Overwhelmed Panic Pressured
Remorse Revenge Shame Sad
Scared Shocked Suspicious Stress
Tired Uncomfortable Uneasy Used
Wary Weary Wasteful

This list was compiled by There are lots more out there. Find and share them!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The other most important word in stress


adj: Situations individuals choose to react with stress to when a) something they really want is missing or b) something they don't want is present. Grouped in unique combinations based on individual preferences and history.

Did you ever look at someone stressing out and wonder what had gotten into them - that what they were making a big deal about was trivial if not utter nonsense? I guarantee others have looked at you the same way.

There's nothing that has to be stressed out about. It could be extraordinarily important or even life-threatening, but that doesn't mean you have to stress out over it (just likely that you will). You start regaining control over yourself once you start questioning if it does indeed deserve being stressed about.

The questioning begins with identifying the situations (and their underlying ideals that are being threatened) that trigger your stress reaction. Once you're aware of when you're stressing out you can decide which situations are really worth stressing about (it's a lot less than your current list).

Questions like:
Why is this not a big deal?
Why does this make my life better?
Why is this easy for me to handle?
Why will this take care of itself?

Still stressing about it? Fortunately, there's still a line of defense (or offense depending on your point of view) for dealing with stress without having to take any action on the situation - recognize that even if something is stressable, it's still releasable.

Thanks to Scott Grinberg, the Name Tag guy, for inspiring me to come up with this word. Check out his new book, -able, on Amazon.

The most important word in stress

Adj: Capable of being let go.

Everything you find stressful is releasable. Once you've decided what's really stressable in your life, your ability to succeed in moving on is dependent on how much you believe that it's releasable.

Releasing is a two step process: *
1) Awareness of where/how it's being held on to.
2) Using the relevant technique to let go.

Where are you holding something?
- In your hand? Open it.
- In your muscles? Breathe, hug, stretch, exercise, get poked (with acupuncture), massage ... whatever, try different physical/sense-releated activities and see which one works for you.
- In your mind? Don't think of an elephant.

You may have done this one in the past - someone tells you not to think of an elephant and you can't help but think of the many aspects of that elephant ... how big it is, it's color, trunk length, etc. You can't couldn't but think of the elephant. The same is true for this stressful thing you're holding onto in your head.

Do you remember how many vowels are in the title of this blog post?

By the way, you just stopped thinking of elephants. That's the key, thinking of something else. And if you recognize that you can let go of a thought once, you can do it twice, and if you can do it twice, you can keep doing it - each time for longer and longer periods. Eventually you'll release it forever. (Byron Katie talks a lot about this.)

Think anything isn't releaseable? Let me know in a comment!

* (Note: You don't have to do anything about the situation to make the stress about it go away. Please listen to what stress is indicating that you'd like changed and pick a different reaction when you attempt to deal with it.)