Can Your Resolutions Be Acts Of Love?

January 2nd, 2015


Don’t perform acts of self-care to fix yourself, to heal yourself, to improve yourself to redeem yourself.  Rather, do them as acts of love, of deep warm friendship to yourself.  

In this way there is no longer any need for the subtle aggression of self-improvement, for the endless guilt of not doing enough.  It offers the possibility of an end to the ceaseless round of trying so hard that wraps so many people’s lives in a knot.  

Instead there is now self-care as an act of love.  

How endlessly delightful and encouraging!

Adapted From Bob Sharples

A Positive Spin On Positive Thinking

November 19th, 2014

imagesPositive thinking can work against you. Instead of moving you towards your goals, it can decrease your motivation and drive. Mental contrasting, which is combining positive thinking with “realism”, is a more effective approach. How is it done? For a few minutes you think of your goal, reaching it, and letting your mind wander where it will. Then spend a few more minutes imagining the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing your goal.

This simple process has produced powerful results in laboratory experiments. The most powerful results were achieved when mental contrasting was used with relatively reasonable goals and not solely focused on fantasy or obstacles. If the goals are not reasonable or attainable, we have a tendency to disengage from them. It impedes action; in the same way that positive thinking alone impedes action.

Further studies have shown that people who engaged in mental contrasting recovered from chronic back pain better, behaved more constructively in relationships, got better grades in school and even managed stress better in the workplace.

Positive thinking can be pleasurable, but attaining goals requires a more balanced approach, as with so many things in life!

Can You Be Too Grateful?

November 13th, 2014


This is the time of year when almost everyone has gratitude and a Thanksgiving feast on their minds. We know that too much of that yummy food could have negative consequences, but is their really such a thing as too much gratitude?

Research demonstrates that we adapt to the good things in our life. A new car or even winning the lottery doesn’t increase our happiness as long as we think it will. Even a higher income has a limited affect on our sense of well-being. We human beings adapt to happiness as we to to all situations.

The same is true of gratitude. Writing down three good things that have happened to you, what they meant to you, and what you can do to get more of that is called the “Three Good Things” gratitude exercise. It is proven to lead to better health, sleep and relationships, and a more positive experience of life in general. However, research has also shown that people adapt to gratitude exercises as well, and that doing “Three Good Things” once a week is more effective than doing in every day.

So gratitude works to improve well-being and happiness, but it does seem to be true that even when it comes to being grateful, you can get too much of a good thing!

Why Is It So Hard To Change?

October 29th, 2014
I am always on the lookout for ways to facilitate change, and wondering-Why is change so difficult? Why can we not become the person that we want to be? The statistics are mind-boggling. Only one in seven heart patients are able to successfully change their behavior when told by their physician that if they don’t they will die, only 8% of New Years resolutions are achieved for the long run, only 5% of people who loose weight on a crash diet keep the weight off, and the majority of dieters gain back more weight then the amount that they lost. How many of us can identify with hard won weight loss going up in a cloud of chocolate ice cream! It’s apparent that the answer is not lack of motivation or inadequate rewards. People struggle with change even when not changing is life threatening.

Did you know that most baby boomers stop taking medication prescribed to maintain their health after a few months? The medication has no side effects, lack of motivation, will power and/or discipline did not explain why.  Research using the Immunity to Change method revealed that the reasons are “hidden commitments” such as not wanting to feel old, or not wanting to fee like you need a crutch.

The Immunity To Change method is the breakthrough approach to personal improvement developed by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lehay of Harvard University. The “immunity to change,” which impedes personal and organizational transformation is a hidden dynamic that is uncovered through this method. Once people see their “immune system,” they understand why prior efforts have failed to create sustainable change and totally new ways to move forward appear. 

 The ITC process changes not what you know, but how you know. It changes the basic ways in which you make sense of your world and yourself. It engages you in truly developmental learning that enables you to make changes that you want to make by uncovering and examining your hidden commitments. You discover why you are keeping one foot on the brake while you also have a foot on the gas, and enables you to ease up on that brake.   
You become free to make changes, changes you want, changes that endure. 

Accentuate The Positive

September 10th, 2014
Research demonstrates that we each pay attention to about 20, 000 things a day, and that the ratio of things that we pay attention to are way in favor of the negative. We are in fact hard wired to pay attention to the negative. In our cave dwelling days you had to be  hyper-vigilant about the saber tooth tiger sniffing around your abode and that attention to the negative was a life saver.
Now that the saber tooth tiger is gone and you are living in a home with wifi, you can relax and use another thing that we all have, selective attention. Selective attention is great, like when you are at a noisy cocktail party and Bill Gates wants to have a one to one chat. You can tune everyone else out. But, there is a hitch with that too. Selective attention combines with our tendency towards negative confirmation bias. It creates tunnel vision and often guides us towards seeing things through a negative lens so that we end up making things worse for ourselves.
Despite this, rest assured that you are not the victim of your attention. You can’t always control what attracts your attention. What you can do is to notice that you are paying attention to the negative and divert your attention to the positive. In this way you give yourself the option to take steps to pay attention to the positive.
What happens when you pay attention to the positive? You are more likely to build rather than burn relationships, deal with stressful life situations better, bounce back from adverse situations and set backs faster, and have a better immune system that resists illness. A study showed that people who were cut and guided towards paying attention to the positive healed faster than those who were not guided towards the positive.

So do some attention training and change your brain chemistry from  one of a cave dweller to a healthy resilient person paying attention to the positive. 

  • Look for the silver lining, it is always there.
  • Choose to see the positive in others, sometimes very challenging, but worth the pay off.
  • Develop a positive go-to image, like your child, the beach or a hole in one. When you are attending to the negative you can redirect your attention to your go-to image.

As you practice attention training it will take less effort and you will reap the benefits of accentuating the positive.  Remember, saber tooth tigers are only in cartoons.  


“Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.”

Michael Jordan 

The Top Three

September 4th, 2014

Research demonstrates that when a person fails in their career, 90% of the time it is attributed to their behavior, not skills, education, knowledge or experience. When we put this together with the data that has been amassed from the over 40 years that the Winslow Personality Assessment has been around, we can identify which personality traits have the greatest influence of behavior that leads to success.

So what does this do for me, you might ask. When I was a kid I would ponder the Falling Rock Zone sign on the NY State Thruway. What is the point of knowing that, I would wonder. What could you do if a rock fell on your car? Now I realize that the sign alerts you to a possibility so that you are better prepared in the event that a rock has fallen or falls while you are driving. Well, being aware of the impact of personality traits on behavior and your awareness of how these traits show up in you are akin to knowing when you are in a falling rock zone. You can choose to change your behavior accordingly, be extra alert for falling rocks.


The three personality traits that are most closely associated with success are ambition, tough mindedness and self-confidence. Think Oprah Winfrey, Dirty Harry, and Martha Stewart. We all fall somewhere on the continuum that ranges from high to low.


Ambition is about drive. Those with high ambition are goal-oriented, striving, competitive, set high standards and experience success as a major source of personal satisfaction. The down side is if you may never be satisfied and lack life balance. Low ambition can lead you to be happy with less than your best, complacent, and unmotivated.


Tough Mindedness is about resilience, being undeterred by obstacles, and easily handling criticism. Those who are tough-minded are cool under pressure. The down side is that you may be insensitive and lack tact. those with low tough-mindedness are easily deterred, require lots of positive encouragement and can take offense when none is intended.


Self-confidence is the unfaltering trust in self. Those high in self-confidence are self-assured, welcome challenges, are comfortable expressing ideas, and have unshakable nerve. The down side is that you may be unaware your own limitations. Those with low self-confidence don’t believe in their own abilities, are apprehensive and easily intimidated. Their insecurity can be paralyzing.


Where are your strengths? Do you see something that is driving a behavior that is an obstacle to your success? Is it possible to improve your chances for success if you fall low on the continuum of these personality traits? The answer is yes!!


The first step is to acknowledge the need for development. And the best approach to development is to control your behavior rather then to try to change your personality. You can create behaviors that will move you closer to success.


Got Assumptions?

August 27th, 2014

A recent study showed that when doctors tell heart patients they will die if they don’t change their habits, only one in seven will be able to follow through successfully. What do you make of this?  I think that it dramatically demonstrates that the desire, motivation and knowledge needed for us to make changes are not enough to do it-even when it’s literally a matter of life or death!  


There is another way. Lisa Lehay and Robert Kegan are professors, researchers, authors and long-time collaborators at Harvard University. As a result of their research, Lehay and Kegan have created a different approach to making changes and goal attainment. The fundamental difference between ordinary approaches to change and their approach is that it starts with your mindset rather than your skill set. We are all functioning with a set of beliefs they call “big assumptions”, that run us. Their system enables you to identify and examine your assumptions.


What follows is an outline of their system. It will give you a feel for how it works. Using their “immunity map” made up of four columns, you can uncover your big assumptions. As examples, I have included how Bill and Mary might fill in their maps. 


Column No.1: Your Goal

The first column is your goal, one that is important to you.

Bill: I am committed to the importance of losing weight.

Mary: I am committed to relaxing my perfectionistic tendencies.


Column No. 2: What You Do
This is where you list the behaviors that prevent you from achieving your goal.
This is where we usually get stuck, thinking that using a new skill set (technical change) will work, but it does not, as many of us know from repeated failed efforts. The two columns that follow are about your mindset (adaptive change), which does work.
Bill: I eat more than I need for my size, snack, eat the wrong foods, fats and sugar. I eat for pleasure not for nourishment.

Mary: I don’t ask for help or accept help when it’s offered and needed, I take a ton of work home, and I work late almost every night.


Column No. 3: Why You Do It
When you are not doing something you believe would benefit you, it is because you have “competing commitments” that are holding you back. These are usually rooted in the fears that arise when you read through column No. 2 and ask yourself: What makes not doing column 2 feel so scary? I like the way Lahey describes this as being in “some ways a very tender expression, a protection of something you feel vulnerable about.”
Bill: I don’t want others to see me as a dieter. I want to forget my problems and enjoy food and life. I use food to ward off unpleasant feelings.

Mary: I worry that someone else won’t do a good job, and if they do, I’ll be less essential and less respected.

Column No. 4: Assumptions

The “competing commitments” listed in column No. 3 are the result of some “big assumptions.” These are ideas we hold to be true even though, until we challenge them (more on that below), we have no way of knowing for sure.

One way to uncover our big assumptions is to apply “If ____, then ____” thinking to our competing commitments in column No.3.

Bill: If I diet people will think I’m rigid and not fun. I’m afraid to feel alone and empty, food is my sole source of pleasure.

Mary: If I am not respected and seen as essential I would be average, I wouldn’t be special.


Experiment With Assumptions

The last step is to create and carry out modest and safe experiments that challenge your assumptions. These experiments are the equivalent of “dipping your toe” into the waters of change. The idea is to gather data that will allow you to successfully challenge your assumptions, little by little.  


Bill: I will eat just one helping, and notice how I feel.

Mary: I will delegate low-value tasks to qualified staff and note what happens. Am I less respected, less special?


Here again, it is easy to slip into the familiar skill set approach, but these experiments are designed to collect data, not to prove your assumptions are wrong. Your experiments will allow you to better understand how accurate your assumptions are and whether your behavior is protecting you or is counter-productive.


You hold your assumptions close and tight. Your assumptions have been with you for a long time. The experiments, collecting data, and practicing your new habit occurs over time, and is best done with a partner or a qualified coach. It is a remarkable process. Your assumptions will start to change, will cease to be in control, and the changes you make as a result will last.  


“And life could just go on that way, except that the system, this anxiety management system you’ve built, charges rent. It’s costing you something. And what does it cost you? It costs you your goal.”
Robert Kegan 

The Cold Machine Part II

August 21st, 2014

The resistance to opinion change also applies to our opinions about our selves.  Do you fully acknowledge your accomplishments and contributions to your family, friends, and colleagues?  What negative opinions do you have of yourself? Is there a voice in your head holding you back? I recently learned a 6-step method of opinion change, that we could apply to our misconceptions of the world around us, as well as the world inside of us. Each step is in the form of a question. They are based on the scientific method of inquiry.


1-What do you really believe anyway?


2-How well based is the opinion that you already hold (data vs. personal experience)?


3-How good is the evidence?


4-Does the current evidence really contradict what you already believe?


5-If the current evidence is not enough to change your mind, what would be enough to change your mind?


6-Is it worth finding out about or is it just a case of why not? (If you believe that drinking a class of water before you take an exam helps you do better, why not just continue to do it? No harm done.)


I am happy to be able to share this with you, and hope that you will give it a try. Evidence is not enough to change opinion, you need to create a story that goes with it, and these questions are a useful guide to doing just that.  As for me, I no longer care about which side of the penny is showing and enjoy a good pear. For those who play the slots, here is something you can believe:


Two friends, Smith and Jones, went together to play the slot machines at the casino. Each agreed that when his allotted money was gone, he would go to the front of the casino and sit on the bench to wait for his friend. Jones quickly lost all of his money and went to sit on the bench. He waited and waited and waited and waited. After what seemed an eternity, he saw Smith coming toward him carrying a huge sack of coins. “Hey, Jones,” said Smith, “how’d you do?” “Well, Smith”, said Jones, “you see me here on this bench- what do you think? It looks like you hit it big, though.” “Oh yeah,” said Smith, “did I find a good machine! It’s way in the back. I’ll show it to you-you can’t lose! Every time you put in a dollar four quarters come out!!!”

The Cold Machine Part I

August 20th, 2014

There are so many experiments that prove that you have no clue as to what motivates you. Take the sock experiment. Four pairs of socks are laid out on a table and passers by are asked to pick the pair they like the best. They are labeled 1-4, with 1 being on the left side. Invariably, a majority picks the fourth pair, the one to the extreme right. 12% pick #1, 17% pick #2, 31% pick #3, and 40% pick #4. The socks are all exactly the same, but people have a natural bias to things that are on the right. Then the experiment is repeated, and this time after the person picks the pair they think are the best they are told that they are all the same, and they are surprised and skeptical. They are also told of the right side bias. Nobody believes it!

We all underestimate how much our beliefs and theories contribute to our observations and opinions, and are not all that open to how many other ways what we see could have been interpreted.

There is a ton of evidence that it is hard for us to reconcile our previous beliefs with new data that prove we are wrong. We have all experienced this. When I was a teenager I came down with an awful flu, I ran a fever that spiked up to 105 degrees. The last thing I ate before I got sick was a pear. For years I thought the pear had something to do with why I became so ill and couldn’t eat one. I also used to be a firm believer in not picking up heads down pennies to avoid bad luck. Do you believe the gambler’s fallacy? If you flip a coin and it comes up heads six times in a row, is a tail more likely on the seventh flip? No it is not, but try convincing the person that is hanging on at that losing slot machine because it has got to produce a win after so many loses. The hard cold data shows that each coin flip and each pull of the lever is an act not related to the one before.

Spite: Cut Off Your Nose

March 19th, 2014

On my way to an event precipitated by spite,I listened to the Freakamonics podcast called Spite Happens to get in the right mood.

It begins with the gruesome etymology of the phrase “cut off your nose to spite your face” which involves medieval nuns cutting off their noses and their upper lips to prevent invaders from raping them. It worked. The podcast goes on to support the notion that people have a propensity to do things for spite even if it hurts them. At that moment it matched my experience. It was hard to take the high road.

I habitually hold the door for the person behind me, at this event I felt a bit of joy when I let the door go. Even though I could not resist the opportunity to let the door go, I believe that what others do is their karma and how you react is yours. So I brought a bit of bad karma into my life, and got right back on the good karma wagon.

It is hard to feel neutral when someone wants you to suffer. Lashing back puts a downward spiral into motion. As you go down, down into the rabbit hole, you can feel anxious, powerless, frustrated and trapped. Spite takes control.

You can take charge. If at all possible, just don’t take the invitation to be involved. In my case that was not an option, but if it is an option for you, consider it. Any initial discomfort that you experience has got to be better then walking into the trap set by spite.

A highly effective response to spite or just about any conflict, is to react with curiosity. If you have the opportunity to ask questions that will clarify the position of the other person you can take the heat out of the situation. When it worksits magical.

The ultimate way to respond to spite is best stated by Don Miguel Ruiz. This is from his book The Four Agreements.”The second agreement – don’t take things personally – cautions us not to take anything said to heart. Most of the time, few things people say or do is about us personally; their thoughts are rooted in their individual perception. Others should not control our moods. By not taking things personally, we immunize ourselves to others’ efforts to manipulate our emotions or beliefs, and in turn, we experience less conflict.”

Spiteful behavior that is aimed at you, says nothing about you and volumes about the person who is being spiteful.

Spite isn’t all bad. The infamous Topeka Westboro Baptist Church is known for homophobia.The members of the church are notorious for appearing at the funerals of celebrities and soldiers to parade their placards and bring attention to their doctrine. Aaron Jackson, co-founder of Planting Peace, was inspired when he heard about 9 year old Josef Miles picketing the church with a sign saying God Hates No One. He bought a property across the street and painted it the colors of the gay pride flag-so there Westboro Church!

And Enzo Ferrari once said, “You know how to drive a tractor but you will never know how to drive a truck.” He said it to Ferruccio Lamborghini who then made a car of his own. Hey, Enzo, who knows how to drive what now?

Contact Us
For More

Call 347.964.6983 or e-mail me.

“Ettie is an excellent and inspiring coach! I was so pleased to have such positive outcomes as a result of our meetings. Ettie has a superb ability to listen and offer clear guidance. I highly recommend Ettie to anyone looking for some inspiration and clear techniques to create their own success!”

— Ruah Bhay,
owner Ruah Yoga


Top of Page