In a recent series of 3 posts, I discussed  a six step process for mastering anger that is directed at you by another person. Step 4 in that process involves forgiving the other person.  As the concept of forgiveness is often misunderstood, I’d like to elaborate on it in this post.
Generally speaking, there are two perspectives you can take to assess and give meaning to the actions of another that:
  • hurt you (or has hurt you in the past)
  • you believe are not right for them to do
  • you view as inconsiderate and unnecessary
  • you believe call for retaliation.

Perhaps, you have a history of physical or sexual abuse that you can’t stop thinking about. Or, someone has done something to you that continues to upset you and ruin your relationship with that person eventhough they may have apologized.

Why is perspective important?

The perspective you adopt regarding what the other person has done will act as a filter through which you assess both the nature of their behavior and the options you choose regarding what you will do about that behavior.

One perspective involves  subjectively viewing and assessing the interaction from a personal point of view.  When you are being subjective, you look at what is going on through the lens of your own emotions, prior beliefs and experiences, and prejudices.  The subjective perspective tends to distort how you view your situation.

In other words: They did something wrong and you continue to be righteously pissed off about it.

It is important to note that emotions by their nature, are highly subjective.

As I discuss in both of my most recent Amazon best seller books Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool, the message of anger is that you perceive a current  threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.  You perceive a threat, the threat, in your mind, truly exists, and your anger is valid.

The problem is that the behavior is in the past and can’t be changed and your anger, in the present, can have negative impacts on your body and your relationships.

The second perspective involves objectively assessing what is going on. You are being objective when you, to the degree that you can, attempt to assess what is going on with you from the point of view of an unbiased observer. You temporarily put your emotions aside and try to understand how this observer is viewing the situation, how you might be overreacting or misunderstanding  what is happening, and how your initial subjective emotional reaction might be inaccurate.

In other words: What is going on with me that I am still pissed off with them?

The Anger Mastery Cycle, a copy of which is available above, calls for us to move into anger management after the initial emotional reaction. Anger management involves reducing our emotional arousal.
Anger Mastery is the next step after anger management and entails assessing the nature of the threat. It is in this step that forgiveness becomes relevant.
Here is the reasoning connecting forgiveness, objectivity and mastering the anger that someone directs at you:
In order to be able to effectively interact with another person you need to keep your own arousal level down and accurately assess what is going on. This is an important part of anger mastery and involves taking a deep breath and taking a step back from the situation.
Forgiveness moves the process of mastering the anger at another person one step forward.
Regarding forgiveness, most therapists and people in general do not understand what forgiveness is. You and most other people
believe that forgiving someone involves absolving them of any bame or responsibility for their actions.   This is what happens when your past debts are “forgiven”.  They are erased. Or, when in the Bible (Disclaimer: I am not a biblical expert.) when Christ forgave someone’s sins and that person was “born again”..

When I suggested to the young women I worked with in the California Department of Corrections-Juvenile Division that they forgive the men who abused them (often their fathers) or the women who abandoned them (or worse), they often refused stating that these men (women) did not deserve to be forgiven for what they did.

Psychologically, people do not want to forgive others because it doesn’t feel right that the other person should be “let off the hook” for what they did.  It just doesn’t feel like justice has been served.
And, maybe it hasn’t.  But, psychologically, this is not the point.
There is an old joke about a guy who comes home very late from a round of golf.  His wife questions him and he says. “It’s all Harry’s fault.”  After additional questioning, the guy explains that Harry died on the second hole and they had to carry him for the rest of the 16 holes of golf.
When someone holds on to feelings about what someone has done in the past, they carry that person (Harry) with them everywhere they go. One’s feelings about the past can color the perception of threat in such a way that one may see a current threat where none exists and remain angry.
As I am using the word, forgiveness means (psychologically) “letting go”. When you forgive another person for what they have done to you, you are choosing to disengage emotionally from that person and their actions.  This letting go frees you up to decide the best way for you to deal with this individual and their behavior in your current context.
There is no absolution of guilt or responsibility.  Rather, you decide that you can’t change the past and you will move on with your life.  Psychological forgiveness is for  (and exclusively about) you and has
nothing to do with the person (or people) you are forgiving.  In fact, they may never know you’ve forgiven them.
Forgiveness allows you to be more objective about the interaction between you and the other person.  In being objective, you have the opportunity to use the energy of your feelings about the situation to both choose and implement your best option to resolve the issues you are facing. Two options you have include resolving issues with this person (if the person is available and willing), or seeing your situation as an I.W.B.N.I (We will talk about this in a future post.) and doing nothing more.
So, forgive them for you so that you can let go of the emotional baggage (your Harry) and get on with your life.
I welcome your comments.

How to Handle Disappointment and “Failure”.

The classical advice about dealing with disappointment and “failure” is to pick yourself up and get back on track. While this is good advice, it focuses on the behavioral aspect of disappointment and not on disappointment as an emotion or on “failure” as a construct.

The emotion of disappointment is defined by Your as “a feeling of sadness, dissatisfaction or displeasure when something isn’t as you planned”. So, in other words, when you are disappointed, you are sad about a situation that has not gone as you expected or wanted.

As I discuss in my book Emotions as Tools A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings, Sadness is a threat detector and one of the 6 primary emotions (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust, and surprise). The message of sadness is that you have experienced a loss and the function of sadness is to both alert you to the loss you have experienced and prepare your body to deal with that loss.

The intensity of sadness can vary along a continuum from mild disappointment through the sublime sense of loss one experiences when someone close to us dies to depression, a condition which can be life-threatening.

The Emotions as Tools Model teaches that all emotions go through a similar cycle. For emotions that involve threat, the cycle starts with the unconscious scanning of one’s surroundings for threat, physically reacting to that threat, managing one’s reaction to the threat when appropriate and, in time, mastering the emotion by validating the threat and choosing how you want to respond to it.

When you experience disappointment, you want to acknowledge and label the emotion as disappointment and recognize the message of the emotion, manage the emotion by giving yourself some psychological space between the situation and your reaction to it and then master the emotion by assessing the validity of the loss and choosing your response to it. The point is that there may, indeed, be a loss or you may be misinterpreting what is happening as a loss and there is, in fact, no loss.

When you understand this approach to dealing with the emotion of disappointment, you now have a context from which you can interpret and evaluate all of the advice you can find about how to handle disappointment.

So that I can keep this post to a reasonable length, let me give you a link to a blog which will give you some good suggestions for dealing with disappointment including 5 key steps and what to do both in the moment of and after a disappointment but please don’t go there until after you have finished reading this post. Here is the link.

Let’s look at the concept of failure.

Many people view failure as a destination and split achieving a goal into two opposing positions. You are either a “success” when you have accomplished your goals or you are a failure because you have fallen short of whatever it is you were trying to do. In my view, and others, success is defined as getting back up and on track more times than you fall down (failing). “Failure” only means that you are off course. When you “get up” more times than you “fall down”, you are almost guaranteed to accomplish your goal.

I believe that a dichotomous view of success and failure is a psychological trap which can elicit a misleading feeling of disappointment, sadness, or even depression.

Let me give you an illustration.

There is a story about Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb. When he was asked by a reporter what it felt like to have failed 10,000 times to make a light bulb, Mr. Edison reportedly said that he did not fail 10,000 times but he did find 10,000 ways to make a light bulb that did not work. Obviously, he kept on going until he “successfully” found a way that did work. There are numerous such stories in the theater (Muppets), literature (Carrie), and so forth.

Mr. Edison did not give in to disappointment or a sense of failure and give up. Giving up is a major downside possibility with disappointment.

So, when you define failure as a destination or as an absolute, you experience a sense of disappointment or loss. This sense of loss is “misleading” because, in fact, you have really not lost anything. As most successful people will tell you, you need to reevaluate, adjust, and move forward.

A very good book on the subject is John Maxwell’s book Failing Forward which is available on Amazon.

So, when you experience disappointment, approach it from an Emotions as Tools perspective. Acknowledge the emotion, take a psychological step back from the situation (management), and move into mastery by assessing the threat and choosing a response. When you hear yourself talking about “failure”, remind yourself that accomplishing a task in a journey, not a destination.

I welcome your comments.


Understanding and Mastering Stress: A different approach

Nearly everyone has experienced “stress”.  It is an overwhelming feeling that:

  • Things are not going right for you
  • You are being asked to do too many things at one time
  • You do not feel qualified or equipped to handle what is being asked of you

You have heard others, or have said yourself, that you are “stressed out” and that chronic stress can, over time, damage you physically.

But, have you ever wondered what stress is?

Mechanical stress

Think about what happens when a physical support on a bridge is overstressed or fatigued.  It breaks and the bridge collapses.  Put too much physical stress on a wooden pencil by bending it and it snaps.

Psychological stress

Psychological stress is, by analogy, similar. When you perceive that too many demands, or expectations, are being placed on you, your capacity to handle the load is surpassed and you feel overwhelmed.

Now, here is something you may not know.

You need a certain amount of stress in order to function.  Think about a clothes line.  If it is too loose, you can’t hang anything on it.  Too tight and it snaps.

I. The Yrkes-Dodson Law and Overwhelm

The Yrkes-Dodson law captures this relationship between too little and too much stress.  The graph below was copied from wikimedia

On the left, you can see the word “Performance”.  Another word that could be used here is “effectiveness“.  On the bottom, you see “arousal”.  Another word that could be used here is “stress“.

In order to understand the Yrkes-Dodson Law, think about being asleep. If your arousal level is too low, as when you are asleep, you can’t effectively do anything except, perhaps, dream.  As you wake up, your arousal level increases.   Perhaps, you need a cup of coffee to get you going.  You get to work, check your schedule, set your priorities and you are ready to go.

Being ready to be productive is “optimal arousal” on the curve.  You don’t feel stressed but  you are energized.

If  your boss, or circumstances, begin to pile more responsibilities on you, you will move  past your optimal arousal level and your performance (effectiveness) begins to drop.   You are feeling anxious or stressed.

Anxiety is another word for stress.  Three of my earlier posts directly address the emotion of anxiety and I have a chapter on anxiety in my book Emotions as Tools: Control Your Life not your Feelings


There are a few ways you can deal with this type of stress:

1. Take a deep breath.

Taking a breath lowers your physiological arousal so you can go on to step 2.

2. Prioritize.

Look at all the tasks facing you and prioritize them in any way that works for you (most to least important, easiest to complete to most difficult, time involved to complete the task from least to most, actions you can take from delegate through postpone to eliminate).

Having a plan  brings order to the tasks facing you.

3. Make a plan.

Once you set your priorities, make a plan to deal with the issues one at a time, and execute your plan.

This step moves  you back on the curve into your optimal range.

Eustress vs Distress

Stress that is enervating and moves you into your optimal zone is called eustress.

Stress that moves you past your optimal zone and lowers your effectiveness is called distress.

II. A definition of psychological stress.

Stress ==> Expectations ≠ Reality

Stress happens when what  you expect to be  taking place(your expectations) is not the same as what is actually going on (your perception of reality.

This approach to stress fits into Yrkes-Dodson but can be applied more broadly.  In many situations in which you find yourself, you will have an expectation regarding the way things should be.  You have expectations:

  • about work,
  • about your relationships,
  • about how your computer should work,
  • about your kids
  • and so forth

While you may, or may not, be aware that you have expectations and they won’t become an issue unless they don’t pan out, you do have them.

It is only when the reality of your situation violates your expectation that you feel stressed and you become very aware of how you think things should be (your expectations).

Handling psychological stress.

There are two possibilities here, both of which are designed to reduce stress by aligning your expectations with your perception of reality.

  1. You can reassess your expectations and adjust them to match reality.
  2. You can reassess and adjust your perception of reality to match your expectations.

In the first strategy, your assessment may tell you that your expectations were unrealistic.  You believed the other person would do more or act differently than they did but you either did not do your due diligence, did not carefully read the contract, or misunderstood what was supposed to happen.  When you realize that you have erred with unreasonable expectations, you make an adjustment, your expectations match reality, and your stress is gone.

In the second strategy, your assessment might tell you that you have misperceived reality.  The other person is doing exactly what you expected and you incorrectly judged them, reacted inappropriately, or just misunderstood.  In this case, you adjust your perception of their actions, the match between expectations and reality is reestablished and your stress is gone.

You now have a more adaptive view of stress and some suggestions for mastering it.

Thanks for reading and I welcome your comments.


Dealing with regret.

Regret is an emotion that can increase your stress level, consume your energy, and lead you into a proverbial emotional maze from which there is no escape. Regrets can haunt you.

All emotions have a message. Mastering an emotion involves understanding the message that the emotion communicates to you about how you perceive your world, taking a breath and assessing the validity of the message, and choosing an appropriate response. You can master emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety, jealousy and even envy. In fact, I wrote a book entitled Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool. If you haven’t done so already, go back to the home page of this blog and download the first chapter of Beyond Anger Management.

Regret can also be mastered if you change your approach to it as I will show you below.

If regret is a troubling emotion for you or someone you know, then you, or they, may have allowed your regret to overwhelm you. When this happens, mastering regret becomes impossible and regret becomes emotionally draining and psychologically intrusive.

Let me explain.

The message of regret is that, based on some future outcome, you either did something you later wish you had not done or you did not do something you later wish you had done. By itself, this can be a healthy message. And we will use this aspect of regret below.

The darker side of regret which is the source of all the emotional pain associated with the feeling is the self-recrimination and blame that people engage in when they feel regret. This can be expressed as: “I was such an idiot when I (did or did not do) X!” or “How could I be so stupid to (have done or not done) X?” or “I lost so much when I (did or did not do) X.” The insidious face of regret is the message that not only was an opportunity ruined by my action or inaction but that opportunity was both important and, now, irretrievable and I am both blameworthy and incompetent for blowing the opportunity.

Put another way, regret continually beats you over the head with the message that you can’t change what you did and you can’t recover from the action or inaction you displayed. This is the emotional box canyon I mentioned above. Not only did you screw up but you are incompetent and must suffer forever because you can’t change what you did and the outcome you created.

While it may be true that the opportunity is lost and that you are responsible for your actions, there usually is no justification for remaining stuck in the past.

So how do you master the emotion of regret and use it to move you forward?

The key to mastering regret is the acronym IWBNI (Ih-whib-knee). The letters stand for ItWould Be Nice If.

Here is how and why this approach works.

When you change the message from “I should (or should not) have done X.” to “It would have been nice if I had (done or not done) X.”, you acknowledge the importance of the specific opportunity that was lost or ruined, you accept responsibility for what you did or did not do, you remove the self-recrimination element, and you give yourself a chance to learn from the past and move forward.

Using the IWBNI approach focuses your attention on what is true. This is why the approach is so powerful.

In every case, it is totally true that It Would Be Nice If the situation had been handled differently.

Secondly, acknowledging the importance of the lost opportunity and accepting responsibility satisfies the thinking, or logical, part of your brain and makes it possible for you to remove the self-recrimination, learn from the past and move forward.

You are now mastering your regret by acknowledging and validating the message of the emotion that something in the past led to undesirable outcomes, you are examining your past behavior and putting it into an emotionally acceptable context, and you are choosing how you want to respond to the emotion.

I welcome any comments on the above.

Effective Empathy- Step 2 and 3

In my last post, I talked about step 1 to establishing effective empathy and noted that you need to both be aware of and overcome the barriers to empathy which might exist between you and the person with whom you are trying to communicate.  These barriers act as filters through which what you say is interpreted and, often, misunderstood. Taking the time to interact with another person and find the common ground that you share begins to set up the foundation from which empathy is built.

Step 2 involves using your knowledge about emotions to provide you with a context for your interactions with the other person.  Step 3 involves showing the other person that you do understand their point of view.  You do this by communicating that you are aware of and acknowledge the barriers that exist between you. You also need to validate their feelings about the issue that both of you are trying to resolve.  This is what “understanding” is all about.

If the other person does not feel that they are being understood, you can’t establish that you care about them or that you understand them, both of which are critical to establishing empathy.

You demonstrate that you understand another person’s point of view when you address the message of the emotion they are showing you.  This is what emotional mastery is all about.

The emotion you see in the other person is based on their perception of the situation in which they find themselves.  This is the emotional process which I addressed in earlier posts. Each emotion communicates a different message.  When you understand the message of the emotion, you can address the concerns of the other person.

The message of the basic emotions are as follows:

  • Anger: I perceive a threat which I believe I can eliminate if I throw enough force at it.
  • Anxiety: I perceive a possible threat in the future that MAY hurt me.
  • Guilt: I have done something wrong that I need to make right.
  • Regret: I either did (or did not) do something that led to a negative outcome that I am powerless to correct.
  • Sad: I have lost something or someone who was very important to me.

I addressed anxiety and anger in earlier posts and I will address regret in a future post.

If a person is angry with you, you “master” their emotion and establish empathy by attempting to determine the threat they perceive.  Are you the threat?  Is a new policy the threat?  Has something changed in the work setting?  You might say, “I can see that you are angry.”  This is the beginning of empathy but does not establish effective empathy.

To be effective, you need to add, “Can you help me understand what it is that you are so angry about?”

When they tell you the object of their anger and you realize that this situation is perceived as a threat, you can then work with them to eliminate the perceived threat in such a way that both of you get what you want.

This is exactly the opposite of what happened when professional women expressed anger about a situation in their work settings and the men in that setting demeaned them and marginalized them. The men appeared to feel threatened by the women’s assertive behavior.

I have tried to give you a basic foundation for establishing effective empathy.  If you would like a more indepth discussion of this issue or a point I have made is not clear, let me know in the comments section.

Barriers to effective empathy

Remember that effective empathy involves being able to understand another person’s world from their point of view.

Recall also, that there are three steps to establishing effective empathy. The three steps are: 1. Establish that you genuinely care enough to want to understand how the other person sees the world, 2. Use your knowledge of emotional mastery as a basis for your empathic communications. and 3. Take the time to let them help you understand how they see their world (and you, as part of that world).

Barriers to effective empathy include differences between you and the other person which could act as filters which prohibit you from understanding how they see their world as well as any “language deficits” which might distort the messages (either from you to them or vice versa) being communicated.

You may experience barriers as you attempt to establish that you genuinely care in step 1 and in step 3 as you attempt to be empathic.

In my last post, I mentioned some of the barriers to empathy that I had to overcome with the young incarcerated women including history and gender, race, and language. All three were critical.  As a white middle class doctor with no history of incarceration, I was clearly different from my clients in appearance, language, and experience.

Given the correctional setting in which I worked, my client’s (correct based on their experience) view of men as abusive, untrustworthy and, often, dangerous, and my graduate school based language, any words I used which implied that I either cared about or understood these young women would come across as empty, insincere, and unlikely. I overcame these barriers by clearly stating that I could not know their world, clearly stating that I wanted to help them and needed their help in order to do this, being consistent in the boundaries I set and the statements I made, and learning to communicate in a manner (using emotional explanations and examples and asking lots of questions) that was non threatening and easy to understand.

I was successful with these young women because I was able to establish that we shared a common interest or, at least, a common ground. The client wanted to get out and stay out of “jail” and I wanted to help them do this.  They needed my help and I needed them to help me be able to work with them.

Step 1 to overcoming barriers is to establish, over time, that you and the person with whom you are communicating either share common goals or share a common ground from which both of you can achieve your goals either as a “win-win” or through compromise and that you are interested in helping them achieve (as much as possible) their goals.

In a work setting, those goals might be to improve the office working environment, build a more successful business, improve worker satisfaction and productivity, be recognized for one’s contributions, and so forth.  Sharing common goals or a common ground does not mean that management and workers, or even co-workers, always agree or see goals in the same light. Indeed, the WSJ article notes the importance of “acknowledg(ing) emotions and hold(ing) employees accountable”. The implication is that a goal (perhaps improving accountability) might be obtained by empathizing with, finding out the concerns of, and ultimately helping the employee become more accountable. The manager wants more accountability and the employee wants to be heard and appreciated.  Accountability will follow being heard and appreciated.

If the goals of the employee are emotionally driven, you will need to understand what emotion, or emotions, are driving the individual and the message of the emotions being displayed.  This is the information of emotional mastery and it is this information that becomes the foundation of the empathic language you can use to overcome the emotional barriers that confront you. This is step 2.

I will continue this discussion in my next posting.



Effective empathy

An article recently published in the Wall Street Journal (6-22-16) caught my attention.  The article, entitled “Companies Try New Strategy: Empathy”, quotes a study by Development Dimensions International which concluded that “Individuals who master listening and responding to others are the most successful leaders, and this skill outranks all others.”

This article especially caught my attention because of a post I published in the Connect:  Professional Woman’s Network on LinkedIn.  I asked the members of the network what they experienced when they appropriately expressed anger in their work settings. The majority of the 2000+ responses indicated that when a woman showed anger to highlight an injustice, she was maligned, denigrated and demeaned by her co-workers. Workplace empathy was not reflected in how these professional women were treated.

Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines Empathy as: “the feeling that you understand and share (emphasis added) another person’s experiences and emotions.” I call this true empathy as opposed to effective empathy.

The article gives an example of an exercise which experientially, approaches true empathy.  Ford Motor Company puts its vehicle designers in pregnancy suits in order to help them feel what it is like for a pregnant woman to ergonomically interact with a car’s design.

This exercise was effective because it put the male designers in the role of a  pregnant woman and, thereby, eliminated the barriers to empathy including the inability of a man to experience the world of a pregnant woman.

While these kinds of exercises are important, dealing with another person’s feelings (the goal of empathic training in a business setting) is a whole different matter.

The reason for this is that, when it comes to another person’s feelings, true empathy is impossible. There are at least two reasons for this. First of all, we cannot actually share another’s experience. Each individual’s interactions with the world are often complex, multifaceted and interpreted through that person’s unique set of filters which we do not share. Secondly, the nature of language is such that even a very good communicator, which most of us are not, often lacks the words to completely describe their experiences.

That being said, while true empathy is not possible, effective empathy (my words) is very possible.  I believe that the WSJ article is talking about effective empathy.

Working therapeutically with the young women in the California Department of Corrections-Juvenile Division was challenging because there were many barriers to establishing empathy.

Here is a partial list of these potential barriers to empathy:

  • History + Gender: Most of these women had histories of multiple abuse by men. I was both a male and I did not have a history of abuse.
  • Race: I was white and many of my female clients were women of color.
  • Language: Not only was there an educational gap between us but these young women had very little experience dealing with feelings or using emotional words. in other words, asking “How do you feel?” often elicited single word, not very informative, answers.

Establishing effective empathy, as I see it, involves being able to understand another person’s world from their point of view.  This involves three major steps.  First, you have to establish that you genuinely care enough to want to understand how they view their world. If you are only using key phrases and are not sincerely interested in connecting with the other person, your words will be perceived as hollow, you will not connect, and effective empathy will elude you.  Secondly, you need to know what emotions are and the messages each emotion conveys.  This information will aid you in gaining the understanding and empathy you seek and is what emotional mastery is all about.  Thirdly, you need to take the time and make the effort to both let them and, if necessary, help them tell you how they see their world. This is where you use your empathic language as well as other communication skills and emotional words to help the other person paint a verbal picture of their world and their concerns.

With my young female clients, my first step was to establish that I could not know how these young women experienced their world because I was clearly not one of them.  The second step was to apply the principles of emotional mastery as a context in which to begin to understand what these young women told me. Finally, the third step was to ask them to help me understand their world from their point of view.

While the actual training described in the Wall Street Journal article may address all three steps, the article, per se, only briefly touched upon step 3.

I will cover these three steps in more detail using different examples in future posts.

I welcome all of your questions and comments.

Grief: What is it and how to master it.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that a very close friend of mine recently died. I, his family and all of his friends were impacted emotionally not only by the loss but by his unexpected (and probably preventable) death.

The emotions I felt were sadness (grief) due to the loss of my friend and anger because I believe he “should” not have died. Both feelings can be valid (appropriate) in the immediate response to loss.

Sadness and anger are both primary emotions  (mad, sad, glad, fear, disgust and surprise) which have existed since we lived in caves and that can be seen today in nearly all human species and some subhuman species.

Sadness is a short term emotion we experience in response to loss.

The message of sadness is that we have experienced a loss and we need to step back and allow ourselves to take some time and readjust to life without the object or person that is no longer with us or the situation, such as a relationship, that has been damaged beyond repair. We can be sad when we “lose” a favorite television program that has been cancelled, we break (or lose) a favorite vase, a friendship ends, or a friend, loved one, or pet dies.

The message of anger is that the situation we are facing is not right, someone is to blame for it, and we want to make it right. In the case of a death, we may be angry at the person who died, others who might have been able to prevent it from happening, ourselves for not doing more, God for taking our loved one away too soon, and so forth.

In response to a death, we experience grief which is a more intense form of sadness and which can be very painful.

This is a link to a very good article on grief which I highly recommend you read.

The emotion of grief can be overwhelming.  I cried and missed my friend. His wife lost sleep, wasn’t eating regularly, and needed the support of family 24/7 for several days.  All of this is quite normal.

You master grief when you validate it and allow yourself (or someone else) to experience it, accept the loss, and readjust to life

To validate your grief is to accept that this emotion, the emotional pain that comes with it, the emotional expression of tears, either wanting to have others around or wanting to be alone (or both), the sense of extreme loss or the sense that you won’t be able to go on because life as you know it has changed, and just about any other expression of grief are, in the short run, completely normal.

To master your grief is listen to the message that you need to take some time to step back, go through the emotional process, and readjust to life. This might involve letting others help you when you need that help, temporarily putting your life “on hold” when you can and, over time, making the adjustments, including acceptance, to get your life back on track.

This is also true if you are supporting someone else who is grieving.

When I was in the hospital room after my friend’s body was returned from surgery, his son was distraught and one of his aunts asked him, “Are you okay?”  When he struggled to say that he was okay, I whispered to him, “No, you are not okay. You are hurting and that is as it should be.”  While I know that his aunt meant well and she was trying to determine if the son was going to survive the event, it was not, in my opinion, the right question to be asking at that point in time  The potential problem with this question is it can put the grieving person in a psychological  bind. My friend’s son knew he was not “okay” and that he was struggling with his feelings about losing his dad. He did, however, want to answer his aunt  and reassure her.  The potential bind is between his need to experience his loss and reassure his aunt.  In my opinion, his aunt’s feelings at that point, while important to her, were irrelevant to him. I whispered my comment because I knew the aunt meant well and did not want to embarrass her.

All the aunt needed to say was that she was sorry for his loss and that she would be there for him to help him in whatever way she could.

Other things well meaning people say include, “He is in a better place.” or “He is no longer in pain.” and so forth. Again, these comments are meant to help soothe and comfort the grieving person but they tend to invalidate the mourner’s feelings. These comments may be very helpful at a later point in time.

You “master” the grief of another person when you validate their feelings, do not put them in a psychological bind where they need to be concerned about your feelings, express that you are sorry for their loss, offer to help in any way they might need you to help, and just be there with, and for, them.

If you are grieving along with the family members, that is understandable. In this case, you master your own grief, as I noted above, by validating your feelings and letting others, who can, help you.

Lastly, as the article in the link above discusses, you should seek professional help if your grief lasts more than a couple of weeks, , you feel that life is not worth living, or you can’t get your life back on track because your feelings are too overwhelming.

Thank you for reading.  I welcome any comments you may have.


Dealing with Procrastination as Anxiety

We have been talking about anxiety and how to deal with it.  While you may not think about it in terms of anxiety, procrastination may be linked to anxiety about some future unwanted outcome.

Many people have written about procrastination and the suggestions they offer are directed at starting the project or overcoming inertia.  Breaking a task down into smaller components, setting S.M.A.R.T  (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound), goals, and rewarding yourself for your accomplishments are very good techniques and can effectively help you to either get past the obstacles which seem to surround a new project or eliminate the distractions that lead you to focus on tasks that grab your immediate attention rather than go after the project you are avoiding.

Sometimes, however, inertia is not the issue underlying your procrastination. If the above techniques for overcoming procrastination do not get you back on track, the issue may involve the emotion of anxiety.

Anxiety can overwhelm you and prevent you from taking action.

As I discuss in my book  Emotions as Tools A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings, anxiety is a future based emotion which alerts you to a possible undesirable future and leads you to avoid that future as if it is not only likely but also the only possible outcome.  Procrastination facilitates this avoidance.

Your anxiety will show up in the questions you ask yourself and the focus of the answers to those questions when you think about your project.

If  you find yourself asking questions such as: “What if (the project)  … Doesn’t turn out the way I want it to?,   Isn’t well received, or Is criticized by the team? and all of your answers focus on the worst possible outcomes, then you are experiencing anxiety as “distress” and you are acting as if the project will turn out bad, the team will not accept it, or the new client will reject you. You will rationalize and justify your procrastination in order to support and reinforce your view of the future and your anxiety.

There is a solution.

Three steps to utilize your anxiety as a strategic tool and move past procrastination.

Step 1: Accept and Validate  your Anxiety

These are the Validate and Examine steps, I mentioned in an earlier post.

The focus of this step is to both accept, rather than fight, and validate, or assess, your anxiety. The message of anxiety is that there MAY be a threat out there that MAY harm me. You strategically use your anxiety as a tool when you acknowledge the message of anxiety and assess it. So take a look at your concerns to see if maybe there is some real issue about the project that you need to address.

If there are issues, then address them. In many cases which involve procrastination, however, there probably is no real issue other than your unsubstantiated anxieties.

Step 2: Turn anxiety into anticipation and excitement.

Anxiety looks ahead to an undesirable future and acts “as if” the projected future is the only possibility.  The flip side of anxiety is anticipation which also looks forward to, but gets excited about, a possible desirable future.

You change your anxiety to anticipation by  asking a different “What if..” question.  Examples include: “What if the project works out successfully and everyone is pleased? or “What if I get the book done and it really helps (non-fiction) or entertains (fiction) the people who read it?  These “what-ifs” will elicit excitement.

Step 3: Let the excitement motivate you and move you past your procrastination.

This involves the Motivate and Act steps I noted in an earlier post.

While it may sound simple, it can work with practice and, once you do this, you can then set goals and complete the project.

If you find this post helpful, or you don’t, I welcome your comments.



Four Anti-anxiety techniques Part 2

FOUR anti-anxiety techniques for strategically using your anxiety. (V.E.M.A)

1.VALIDATE:  Validate (accept) your feeling.

“I am really anxious right now.”

The point here is that your anxiety is telling you that you are facing a big challenge and must prepare for it.  Accepting (validating) your feeling opens you up to the opportunity to examine your anxiety and benefit from its message.

2.EXAMINE:  Use your anxiety as a wake-up call to examine the “reality” of the threat.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the “threat” that I’m facing?

In the above example, the threat is the slow internet connection which was preventing my colleague from uploading his information. The threat was real. It was not catastrophic.

You may discover that there you have misunderstood or misperceived the situation and there is no threat.

  • How important is for me to eliminate the threat and get the “job” done?

If the “job” is very important, then you will need to figure out a plan of action. If the “job” is not really that important, then choose to let the feeling go and move on.

  • What do I need now in terms of skills and knowledge, what resources do I have that I can call upon to move forward, or what do I need to do to get the resources I need?

My colleague needed a network connection. With his focus on solutions, he realized that he could borrow a network at a friend’s house or Starbucks.

The point is that you have knowledge and resources upon which you can draw to help you move forward.

Your anxiety, if not used as a tool, can distract you from identifying these resources.


Use your anxiety as a motivator or energizer to charge up your creative juices and push you to making plans to use the resources you have or will develop.

“I can use all this nervous energy as motivation to get this “project” back on track.”

4. ACT

Take action, NOW.

Answer these four questions, determine where you need to change, get the information you need, and move forward in strategically applying your anxiety. 

  1. I validate my feelings… Yes / No
  2. I examine the “reality” of the threat that might exist.. Yes / No
  3. I use my anxiety as a motivator.. Yes / No
  4. I am taking action on what I have learned… Yes / No

I look forward to your comments.