When Failure is an Option

Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat. – F. Scott Fitzgerald In our success-driven culture, there seems to be no end of helpful adages for dealing with failure. But “failure is not an option” is small comfort to those who believe they have already failed, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” seldom encourages the already discouraged, and “we learn more from failure than from success” is scant consolation…

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How to (Really) Listen

The first duty of love is to listen. – Paul Tillich Failures to listen are endemic to our species. The most common complaint from parents who bring their children to me for counseling is that “they don’t listen,” by which the parent usually means that the child does not obey. When I talk with children, they likewise complain that their parents don’t listen, but they mean it literally. Failure to listen to children…

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Stay Sane with the Personal Craziness Index

To stay sane in an insane world, we need more than new tools and techniques. To maintain sanity, we also have to keep doing the things that got us there. The final piece of the resilience puzzle is to build Balancer-enhancing attitudes and practices into our daily lives, so they are as much a part of our routines as breathing. Then we keep watch to make sure we’re staying on track. When Balancer…

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Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life

At the risk of stating the obvious, in order for Balancer to keep us balanced, it’s helpful to do activities that explicitly promote … balance. Mindfulness-based activities are at the top of the list. The term mindfulness, the state of being focused on the present moment, without judgement, has become part of the zeitgeist in the past several years, and for good reason. The benefits of mindfulness-based activities are physical, emotional, and psychological.…

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Handling Change, Part I:
Radical Acceptance and Self-Compassion

Emotional adaptability is the ability to respond to changing circumstances and events without being unduly shaken by these changes. It’s a Balancer characteristic and a key component of resilience. Those of us who are emotionally adaptable can bend with the wind, like saplings. Those of us who are less adaptable are likely to strain and crack as we struggle to maintain equilibrium. Emotional adaptability varies from person to person and can also be…

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Handling Change, Part II:
Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness

Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness Like acceptance and compassion, the ability to forgive ourselves and others can free us from what Romantic poet William Blake called “mind-forged manacles” – in this case, feelings such as anger, hatred, resentment, guilt, shame, and victimization. Liberation from these feelings through forgiveness can help us be more available in the present moment and more adaptable to its ever-changing conditions. Forgiveness, however is sometimes difficult to achieve. Some obstacles to…

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Handling Change, Part III:
Creative Approach and Experimental Attitude

Creative Approach Creative activities – and the creative approach to life that often accompanies them – can also help us become more emotionally adaptable. Creative activities are rewarding as outlets for self-expression. They feel good, they are centering, and they give us a sense of accomplishment. And they’re often fun! But besides these more obvious benefits, creative activities can also change the way we approach our lives. When we work creatively, we dive…

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Strive for Excellence, Not Perfection

My father was a storekeeper and the son of working-class immigrants. He wanted his children to do better than he had, and he believed the gateway to a successful life was education. Consequently, he held me, his firstborn, to high academic standards. This meant I had to get A’s, and to earn my father’s approval I abandoned many other activities so I could focus on schoolwork. By the time I completed high school,…

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How to Boost Connections and Support

For most of us, UnBalancer flourishes when we’re isolated. We are social animals, and separation from others weakens our ability not only to thrive, but sometimes even to survive. Ostracism – being ignored and excluded – threatens our basic need for belonging. In other mammals, being ostracized removes the individual from the protection of the pack and usually results in death from predators or starvation. Human beings are hard-wired to fear ostracism, so…

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How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps

One of the most powerful resilience-building, Balancer-enhancing strategies is to consciously look for growth opportunities in experiences – to seek the silver lining in the cloud. Looking for the growth opportunity in the struggle makes it possible for us to find it. Difficulties become, as a friend of mine puts it, “just an AFGO – Another F***ing Growth Opportunity.” Thinking of struggles as AFGOs allows us to accept, in a tongue-in-cheek but still…

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Learning to Love Yourself

In my more troubled youth, I was often told that to truly love anyone, I needed first to love myself. This advice, though well-intentioned, set up an unhelpful dynamic. Loving myself seemed as much like actual love as masturbation was to sexual intercourse – a solitary substitute for the real thing. Why would I want that? In my mid 20s, while riding the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn, I had an insight: To…

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Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps

  In recent posts, I’ve talked mostly about ReBalancer, the force that kicks in when our default stabilizer, Balancer, gets thrown out of whack by the UnBalancer. ReBalancer handles out-of-the ordinary stresses, but ReBalancer alone can’t keep us on an even keel. For that, we need Balancer to be healthy and strong. Balancer doesn’t ask us for much. Much like our immune systems, it chugs along on autopilot, making minor course corrections when…

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How to Design an Experiment

IMPORTANT: If you’re just tuning in now, click here for Part I, Balance: The Experiment and then come back here. This is Part II of a two-parter on using Experiments to keep your life on track.  Like any experimenter, when our ReBalancers design Experiments, they follow a sequence of steps. The implementation may be spontaneous or deliberate, but the steps are basically the same either way. Observe the current situation to see what needs…

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The Experiment

“We’ve never seen anything like this!” shouts the general to his cadre in the crowded Situation Room. An alien menace has humanity at its mercy. Nothing in our mighty arsenal has any effect against it. We will be dominated or destroyed within days … unless we apply Yankee ingenuity, create experiments that reveal our nemesis’s vulnerabilities, and find a way to exploit them. The unknown enemy and the heroic victory against it has…

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My Life in the Balance

NOTE: This is a guest post by Barrie Levine. If you are interested in doing a guest post on Balance or a related topic, please email me at david@davidbookbinder.com. During the two tough years of my husband’s illness, I lost my balance. Every consideration in my life was laser-focused on his well-being. I never doubted the vital importance of my full-time role as a caregiver; in fact, I considered it a gift to accompany…

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Hanging in the Balance

There once was a Zen monk who, while walking across a field, encountered a ferocious tiger. The tiger chased the monk across the field until he reached the edge of a high cliff. The monk’s only chance was to grab a vine that grew at the cliff’s edge and lower himself out of the tiger’s reach. As the monk hung from the vine, he saw that below him, another tiger was waiting. He…

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The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team

Last week, I wrote about the UnBalancer. As powerful as UnBalancer is, and as insidious as it can be, each of us has two powerful allies to help us counteract it. One of them is Balancer. Like UnBalancer, Balancer has been difficult to define. I’m only beginning to understand its totality. It’s not only Awareness, though Awareness is certainly one of its components. It’s not just Mindfulness, either, though Mindfulness can be a…

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The Under Toad and the UnBalancer

‘The Under Toad,’ Walt said. ‘I’m trying to see it. How big is it? And Garp and Helen and Duncan held their breath; they realized that all these years Walt had been dreading a giant toad, lurking offshore, waiting to suck him under and drag him out to sea. The terrible Under Toad. Garp tried to imagine it with him. Would it ever surface? Did it ever float? Or was it always down…

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Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels

My first counseling psychology supervisor once remarked that every psychologist begins as a child psychologist – as a boy or girl who, to survive childhood, develops the basic skills for psychotherapy. I’ve been interested in becoming a therapist since my first year in college, but until my 50s, I didn’t know how I could handle the emotions of 20 or 30 people a week. Carrying people’s feelings has always been an issue for…

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A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care

NOTE: This post is about how to take care of yourself when you’re too pressed for time for normal self-care. But first, some back story. In the summer of 1979, after two of my roommates were mugged and I narrowly escaped the knife myself, I left Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant for parts unknown. I’d arrived in New York five years earlier with two books, two cameras, and a knapsack full of clothes, but by the…

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