Want Deeper Relationships? Try “My Life Story”!

September 24th, 2016

I admit it. I find trivial conversation boring. It is fine for openers but if it doesn’t lead to something of depth, I’ll find an excuse to move on. Perhaps I’m just not good at it and/or perhaps I like to go deeper into who people are, what they believe, and how it impacts their life choices and behavior. Life is too short to live in the superficial. I’m not judgmental of those who think and communicate differently, just not my style. Plus, I do believe that there are many individuals who trivia talk that would prefer more in depth conversation and connection with others. For those of you interested, read on.

Monique Honaman, a corporate trainer and fellow blogger, wrote an interesting piece recently about a technique she has used to develop trust and bonding with employees of a company she was consulting with. The technique is to have each person have five minutes to share something of his or herself with the others. The beginning point is “My life story”. To get the ball rolling she suggests some starting points. They are:

  1. “Take us through your life highlighting the key points”
  2. “Who has made the biggest impact on your life? Why?”
  3. “What are you most proud of?”
  4. “What aggravates you?” ( I don’t like this one. It puts negative energy into the room)
  5. “What is the most challenging thing you have ever done?”
  6. “Where and when did you meet your spouse?” (I added that one)
  7. “Why did you choose the career that you did?” (I added that one as well)

None of this is life threatening, yet it opens up a sense of connection to others. As the founder of Humanistic Psychology, Dr. Carl Rogers, stated, “That which is most personal is most universal.”  Below the surface each of us human beings share so much in common basic to life’s adventure, as well as unique idiosyncrasies. It is a shame that too often we don’t find the mechanism to share these commonalities and differences. It’s where the “good stuff” resides!

I like that Monique, (we’ve met and talked in depth so I can call her “Monique” J)  uses this technique in her professional consulting with corporations.  She finds in this setting that this human sharing leads to team members collaborating better with each other or as she states, “completing each other instead of competing with each other”.



I addition to doing counseling and therapy, and giving workshops, I have led “personal growth” groups. These have been enormously fun and productive as I facilitated and watched people share their “life story”. I witnessed people empathize, learn from, be motivated and supported, to move forward in their personal growth in various forms. Friendships formed, and in some cases, romances began, as a result of such personal sharing.

Respected Reader, I invite you to share your personal “life story” and invite others to do the same. A connection based on such a sharing results in a more caring trusting relationship. Give it a try and see if your life is enriched by sharing something in depth with another. I know my life continually is enriched by this interaction – both personally and professionally. My life is never boring thanks to the wonderful people who share their “life story” with me and invite me to share mine. Ah, depth!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”   Socrates

Living A Life Without Major Regrets: Younger People Take Heed!

September 16th, 2016

For those of you who read with some regularity my penned thoughts you know that one of my favorite mottos from my Socratic mentor is “The unexamined life is not worth living”. I challenge myself in this manner and invite other people who want to live the fullest and happiest life possible to do the same. If you examine your life, both backwards and forwards, you probably say to yourself, “I wish I had not done that”, whatever “that” may be. Everyone has some of them, hopefully none too catastrophic in impact. And going forward what are areas to be “examined” that involved life choices that could lead to fulfillment or regret?

Dr. Kari Plummer, Professor of Human Development, at Cornell University has written an intriguing article entitled “Living a life without (major) regrets”. Over the past ten years he has surveyed around 2000 older people. He asked these elders this question, “What can younger people do now to avoid having regrets at your age?” The results were interesting and may shed light on how to make life decisions, big and small.

Here are the results – the top five recommendations by these thoughtful elders.

  1. CHOOSE A MATE WITH EXTREME CARE: The elders felt that this was the most important decision a human being makes. They say “we are not careful enough”. They say, “question the decision, then question it again. Or you may be in for deep and serious regrets. Respected Reader, do you have any doubt as to why I chose this topic to write about?! I truly believe that your marriage is the most impactful event in your life. Thus “due diligence” is so important. I’ll say it again, too many people spend more time and money researching a car, house, or other significant investment than they do a potential life partner. Incredible!
  2. ALWAYS BE HONEST: Elders felt that honesty is an indisputable core value. Dishonesty was mentioned over and over as a source of profound regret. To avoid later life remorse, “tell the truth and don’t cheat anybody”.
  3. TRAVEL MORE: Do it now as much as you are able. Elders say that when your traveling days are over, you will wish you had taken one more trip.
  4. WORRY LESS: Elders deeply regret wasted worrying time about things that never happened. “Worry wastes your life” said one.
  5. SAY IT NOW: Elders emphasize this lesson either because they were grateful that they spoke their piece while there was still time, or because they profoundly regret not having done so. “Send flowers to the living. The dead never see them!”

Surely there are other possible regrets but these are some of the major ones for most people. May this message heighten your awareness, Respected Reader, of potential regrets that you may have should you leave this planet earlier than you were expecting!

Curiosity Has Many Benefits!

September 5th, 2016

Are you the curious type? Or, have you lost that child-like curiosity?  Do you remember when you used to continually ask “why”? If you need a reminder just listen to your children, or your grandchildren,  as they ask “why” about many things in their world. Asking “why” leads us down the path of learning, understanding more about what life is all about.

Unfortunately many people quit asking “why”, their quest for ongoing learning comes to a halt. Lack of inquiry leads to a “hardening of the categories”. Rigid thinking develops. Curiosity has died. However, it is capable of resurrection. Enlivened curiosity has many benefits. May I sell you on some of them?

I am guided in this presentation by some of the research work done by Emily Campbell, Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. The benefits are intellectual, psychological, emotional, social, and physical health.

  1. Curiosity helps us survive. The urge to explore and seek novelty helps us remain vigilant and gain knowledge about our constantly changing environment. This experience leads to the release of dopamine and other feel good chemicals in our brain as we encounter new knowledge.
  2. Curious people are happier. Research has shown curiosity to be associated with higher levels of positive emotions, lower levels of anxiety, more satisfaction with life, and greater psychological well being.
  3. Curiosity boosts achievement. Studies reveal that curiosity leads to more enjoyment and participation in school and higher academic achievement, as well as greater learning, engagement, and performance at work.
  4. Curiosity can expand our empathy. When we are curious about others and talk to people outside our usual social circle, we become better able to understand those with lives, experiences, and worldviews different than our own.
  5. Curiosity helps strengthen relationships. People are perceived as being warmer and more attractive if they show real curiosity in exchange with others. Deeper connection and closeness are the result.
  6. Curiosity kills boredom. (My addition). Try to be curious and bored at the same time. You can’t.

In my practice and in encounters with many people I encounter individuals who have lost that sense of curiosity. They think they have all the answers and refuse to open their minds to new knowledge. Being stuck gives them a false sense of security. They do not want to be “confused” with new knowledge.

It is my hope, Respected Reader, that you are not a person who has lost your curiosity. If so, work to regain it. Challenge the givens of your life. See if there are other perspectives, rationales, explanations that can be additive to your life. If you choose not to, may I ask “why”? I’m curious!

Helping Adult Children And Their Parents To Reconnect

August 26th, 2016

Estrangement happens between people. Insight of the day! Estrangement happens in families. Some are reconcilable, some are not. Some relationships can be reconnected with an objective mediator with the appropriate skill sets. That is where I come in – and I’m glad that I do! One of the more enjoyable, and successful, things that I do in my practice is to help adult parents reconnect with their estranged adult child. In some situations the situation is reversed and the adult child is trying to get back in the good graces of the adult parent and is seeking my assistance to accomplish this.

What I have been experiencing a lot lately is an adult parent coming to my office to speak of a heartbreak that exists. These parents have been shut out by their adult son or daughter. They want to understand why and hope that I can facilitate a more harmonious relationship.

Here’s how it works. I get “the story” from the shut-out adult parent. During the narrative I usually pick up on part of the reason why the other adult child has banned him/her from his/her inner circle. I close this initial narrative by asking the adult parent to text/call the other adult child involved and ask if s/he would meet with me one time to explain the “exile”. Usually the “exiler” is pleased to come to and give me the reasons for this chosen behavior.

At the conclusion of these information gathering sessions I then invite them to come in together to see what might be done to develop a better relationship. Deep down most parents and children would like some form of peaceful, maybe even nurturing, relationship. Love usually runs deep, though sometimes it is buried for a time.

Generally in such cases there has been some mistakes made that the adult child considers to be grievous. Sometimes it is a single incident when a behavior took place that led to the estrangement. Most often it is a style of interaction that the adult child finds to be frustrating and, therefore, puts up a strong barrier.

In the latter category it is often when the adult parent has crossed the line by judging and/or advising the adult child as to what s/he should do in particular instances. (“Shoulding” on people generally is not a good idea!).

Respected Reader, if you or someone you know is in such an estranged situation, act on it. A parent-child relationship at any age is precious and important. Every effort to reconcile this relationship is a great idea!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”   Socrates

Seven Damaging Fights Couples Have

August 20th, 2016

As I listen to people in my office I hear every imaginable thing. People express their concerns, fears, anxieties, sadness, angers, guilts, hopes and dreams. I listen well, express empathy, and begin the process of moving forward to solutions for these presenting concerns. Some therapeutic beginnings are more difficult than others. These are the ones that begin with couples sharing their “down n dirty” fights. The hateful emotion and residual bitterness is hard to stomach. Mutual disrespect, resentment, and lack of support are the results. But, such is the life of many couples who either should not be married or need to learn better skills to avoid such toxic encounters.

Bibi Deitz wrote and interesting blog on this topic listing seven toxic fights that couples have. I will list them and comment on each for your education and edification- if so warranted.

  1. Sex: Are you surprised? Sex is so emotionally loaded. Want to do it, when to do it, how to do it, etc… can lead to hurt feelings, rejection, anger. Thus, words or exaggerated behaviors may result creating a toxic encounter.
  2. Money: Excess spending, anal control, fiscal infidelity, lack of transparency all are factors raising the temperature gauge leading to toxic encounter.
  3. Mudslinging Fight: This is when some trigger situation opens up some extreme put downs. Favorite target areas to disparage are looks, weight, and intelligence. Mean spirited name calling is ugly and creates another toxic encounter.
  4. Partner’s Family: The rule of thumb here is that a person can talk trash about his/her family but the partner cannot. People can get very protective, sometimes irrationally, about their family. Can be weird.
  5. Control Partner: One partner continually badgers and harasses the other into behavior or activity that is wanted by that person. At some point the dam breaks and the harassed one blows up and escalated rhetoric results in another toxic encounter.
  6. Household Chores: Who does what (the dishes), and how (the “right way” to load the dishwasher), and when (the next day?) are frequent disagreements. Is the division of labor “fair”? Is score keeping going on? Household chores frequently lead to toxic encounters.
  7. Have Nothing To Do With Situation At Hand: These are build up explosions emanating from stale resentments that burst forth out of the blue. These outbursts certainly can lead to another toxic encounter.

Well, Respected Reader, any of these occur in your household? How about some others that are not mentioned here?

It’s tough to re-connect after one of these toxic encounters. Avoid if at all possible.  Bruised feelings and egos can take time to recover and get on path toward re-kindled love. But it is worth the try!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”   Socrates