What Can You Trust?

Like many coaches and psychologists, I have looked at the famous Stanford prison experiment to show how power and perception of rank changes how we treat each other, see our place in the world, and believe in our ability to affect change. The results of this experiment state that those pretending to be guards began to treat those playing inmates harshly as soon as they were given the power. The inmates in turn became depressed and powerless. Truth is though, the experiment, which is still being included in college text books, was falsified. Additionally, it turns out this experiment taken as real for years, is not the only one purposefully or unintentionally misleading.

When I ran across this great article exposing issues with currently accepted psychological experiments, it reminded me of a time when I was doing marketing research for a company. The research did not reflect positively for the goals of the sales department. The managers of the company pressured me to manipulate the research data so that it was more convincing for our clients. I refused. The managers, however, adjusted the results on their own, eventually winning the contract and creating issues when the product did not perform as well as the doctored research.

Photo by on Unsplash

Never in my lifetime have I seen more of a need to qualify and confirm the information being presented to us through books, articles, and news sources. In this time of easy information and no supreme governing body over the quality of information, it is very important to analyze the source of the information, the quality of the information, and the conclusions drawn.

Analyze the Source

What is the agenda of the source? What does the source have to gain by swaying you one way or the other? If your best friend of 40 years tells you that your new spouse is cheating on you, but your spouse says s/he is not, who has the most to gain by lying? Even when I read news from a source I trust, I often look for corroborating reports. I’ll especially look for news outlets removed from the topic so they have less of a tendency to create bias as they have no stake in the issue.

Analyze the Quality of the Information

Where is the information coming from? Is it first-hand experience or a game of telephone? What scientific, objective methods were used? Can what is being told be proved? Is the information presented as tangible facts or conjecture? Is what is being relayed objective or an interpretation?

Analyze the Conclusions

Before we could see the subatomic particles of an atom, we thought the atom was the smallest component and therefore any conclusions around that topic were limited by that belief. Are the conclusions in what you are reading limited by what we currently know? Are there facts missing which would affect the presented conclusions? Is there social or cultural bias affecting what is being presented? Can you see alternate conclusions based on the facts?

If you are only trusting one source, or even one person for your news, you are giving your power away. Gather a broad palette of information and then question everything before accepting what is presented. We can be easily deceived by those who are intentionally or unintentionally trying to manipulate us for their own purposes.

yoga studio

Step into the Front of Life

In yoga, I usually grab the back corner. I don’t want anyone to see me doing yoga. I am recently back to the practice, round and not stick-figure-toned, and usually older than most of the other practitioners. Most of the time, I am surrounded by fit, thin 20-somethings and feel like the ugly duckling so I retreat to the back. However, from the back corner, what I see is not just the instructor but all the participants. As my focus is on them, I find I often compare myself to them. I am not judging them as much as I am judging myself, my ability, and my worth by their ability and appearance.

yoga studioOn Friday I arrived and no one else was there. I took a place upfront because I knew the instructor would make me move anyway. Well by the time the class started, there were three rows of people. I took a deep breath and prepared for being on display. What was interesting was being in front made me less conscious of others, less self-conscious, and less judging. Because I didn’t see anyone else, I could release the comparison and solely focus on myself.

What I realized was hiding in the back didn’t protect me. It actually made me more self-conscious because I saw the others in front of me. Being in the back put more focus on others and allowed me the opportunity to compare myself to them. Being in the back did not hide and protect me, but actually hurt me because I choose to compare.

By making myself first, in the front of the room, I could not see the others. The others didn’t matter when I couldn’t see and focus on them. By putting myself first, I removed “the other” and allowed me to focus on myself. That day in class was one of my best practices I experienced because it was just about me. No comparisons. No self-consciousness. Just doing my best and accepting myself as I am. Because I was not focusing on others, I was able to go within (the whole point to yoga). I was able to focus on my moves, my practice. I found strength I didn’t have when I was self-conscious. Without the yoke of comparison, I was free to explore each pose. I found this practice to be one of the best I ever had.

As you go about your day, how much time is spent comparing yourself to others? How much of your focus is on what others are doing and saying versus what you believe and think? How are you stifling yourself because you don’t think you are as [insert adjective here] as others?

This week be aware of the comparisons and judgements you are making. What do they mean about your self-opinion? How are they keeping you from moving forward? Are they creating resentment and sadness? Then try to shed the comparisons and notice how you can free yourself. When we put ourselves first, we unrestrict our purpose and heart and we are more powerful. Stop hiding behind others, and step into the front of life.

walking in anothers shoes

Walking in Another’s Shoes

I watched a terrific TED talk the other day by an individual who has a unique view on gender issues and authenticity. Paula Williams started life as a man and is now a woman. Due to her experiences, Paula has a very unique view of both genders and has experienced firsthand that they are equal, but there is not equity for both. She shares funny and sad examples of bias and favoritism. She said she lived life from both sides and the “differences are massive.”

I’ll let Paula’s message focus on the gender issue. What I want to focus on is our assumptions and unconscious bias, and the power we give away to others.

Releasing Assumptions

walking in anothers shoesPaula has a unique opportunity to really learn what it really means to be and experience life as a woman, and a man.  For most of us, we only know what we know as our gender. We can have an idea of the injustices and differences but can’t know firsthand how both genders experience life. This is true for almost everyone we meet. We all have unique journeys. We are born into different bodies and different environments. We learn and experience different things growing up. It becomes all too easy to dislike or attack another because of one aspect we see. Yet, we don’t know the full picture. Unless you can truly walk in another’s shoes, you will never know what they experience, think, and believe. We can assume, but our assumptions are clouded by our own experiences and beliefs.

Next time you have a disagreement or negative reaction to another, stop. Step back. Try to look at the big picture of who this individual is, where they came from, and if other issues they may be experiencing may be coloring their actions. So much of the online and offline rage and arguments we see are based on assumptions and “the other.” When we can release our own bias, it allows us the space to see the full picture of the other person – and start an intelligent dialogue.


For those of you who are struggling with self-esteem and your voice, Paula has some great words of encouragement. I have experienced people throughout my life, and even recently, who sought to put me down and belittle me in one form or another. If we hear – and take in – this negativity for too long, we can start to believe it and take it on as our own. No matter what others say about you, remember that you are intelligent and worthy. Stay true to yourself. Stay true to what you know. Don’t question yourself just because others do. The key to strength and power is to believe it inherently. When we look to others for approval and confirmation, we have already given away our power. Reclaim your strength by owning it.

As you go about this week, notice the assumptions you have about others. How much do you really know about them? Can you identify and, hopefully, release your bias? Who are people who make you doubt yourself? Why are you triggered by them? What do you need to own about yourself? This week, follow Paula’s lead and honor the journey and the differences of others, and yourself.

david allen

I Don’t Mind What Happens

I discovered a quote the other day by J. Krishnamurti about his “secret” to well-being. “You see, I don’t mind what happens.”

What power is there in that simple statement! How much of our pain, anxiety, heartbreak, and stress are the result of putting meaning in what is happening? I often speak about this concept in relation to money. Imagine you have $100 in your bank account. This is a fact and has no emotional meaning. Your bank statement can not cause you pain. But what if you add in the painful thought that you only have $100 in your account? How does that feel? What does that mean about you? What fears does that meaning bring up about your future? When I do my talks, I would invite people to find gratitude instead by perhaps focusing on that they still have $100 in their account after paying all their bills. I am a big fan of gratitude and how it can make us feel secure and happy. But Krishnamurti takes it one level still.

280_give creditIn his quote, he releases any meaning, judgement or expectation – bad or good. It reminds me of the farmer and the horse story that David Allan tells and explains so well here. Both Allan and Krishnamurti make the case of staying calm and non-judgmental in the face of bad – and good – events. How many of us ride the roller coaster of life? When something good happens, we expect something bad to be around the corner? When we are in the bad, we look with longing to other times or other people who seemingly have it so good. We are victims to the ups and downs of life that we create with our meaning. But what if we stop defining good and bad?

If you are in a difficult situation right now or if you feel like a yo-yo flying back and forth from good to bad, try these exercises.

Build Proof: Look at your own life. What “bad” things actually led to the good you have now?  What challenge had to be experienced to allow you to grow into who you were meant to be? What difficulty helped you change things for yourself and others? Martha Beck teaches the Backward Life Story to help us see the power of the bad. Look at one of the wonderful things you have right now in your life. Then look at what happened just before the good thing. And then look at what happened just before that and then before that. Keep going until you hit the bad experience behind it all. Nine times out of ten (if not more) you will be able to trace the joy you have in your life right now, to a painful incident. Without that incident, you would not have the joy. If you have trouble seeing this in your own life, look at the real world examples David Allen shares. Build an understanding of how life’s downs lead to life’s ups. Trust that what you are going through now is only leading you to something better.

Just the Facts: Review your current situation. Identify where you are feeling pain – or joy. Now remove the feeling and just look at the facts. Notice how it is your interpretation of the situation that causes the feeling. Nothing has meaning that we don’t bring to it. Focus on the tangible reality of the situation, not your self-imposed meaning.

Go with the Flow: As you go through your week, be an observer, not a participant in your life. Watch what happens as you would watch a movie. Do not invest meaning. Do not create expectation. Do not judge. Simply move from experience to experience. Get off the good-bad roller coaster.

Focus on Gratitude: Even in the most difficult situation, find the silver lining. When my father went through cancer it was difficult on us all. But even in that I found the gift in having a reason to spend more time with him than I would have had he not been ill. Look at your current pain and find the blessing hiding in the background.

our brain

It All Starts with You

I ran across this quote the other day and wanted to share it with you.

“If you knew your potential to feel good, you would ask no one to be different so that you can feel good.

You would free yourself of all of that cumbersome impossibility of needing to control the world, or control your mate, or control your child.

You are the only one who creates your reality.

For no one else can think for you, no one else can do it.

It is only you, every bit of it you.”

― Esther Hicks

“You are the one who creates your reality.” If you have been reading my posts for any time, you will know that this is a belief that I profess. And I profess it is not always easy. When we are hurt, angry, or sad, we curse the world and those around us for making us feel that way. The truth is that no one can make us feel any way. Outside forces may create undesirable situations, but we are the ones who choose to react to those situations. We create our reality by how we choose to react; how we choose to perceive situations; how we judge others’ actions.

When I am at my most powerful, is when I am at my most accepting. I see people for who they are without judgment or attack. I accept all circumstances as they are without my perception of what that means for me or others. It is a little like being the logical Spock from Star Trek, but it is not being heartless. Acceptance is seeing the world and those around us truthfully and compassionately. The ability to do this comes from disengaging the fear-sensing part of our brain. It comes from being able to turn off our unconscious stress reactions and consciously choose how we view and react to situations.

our brainMost individuals these days are ruled by the amygdala in their minds. This is the part of our brain that senses danger. And it lives to sense danger whether it is a physical assault on our bodies or a decrease in our 401k, the amygdala is ever ready to let us know we are in trouble. When the danger signal is sounded, the cingulate gyrus jumps in and pulls from its storehouse of knee-jerk reactions the appropriate response. This is terrific for when we need to run from a lion before we are eaten. We want our mind to immediately make us run instead of taking the time to consciously debate what action to take resulting in us becoming the lion’s lunch.

The amygdala and cingulate gyrus are a great system, usually. The problem these days is that we are constantly bombarded with real and imagined dangers. The media, Facebook, our peers, and our own replaying of hurts of the past or fears of the future, constantly keep us in a state of danger. This also traps us in the unconscious reactions of the cingulate gyrus which may appear as anger, depression, outrage, indignation, and reprisal. The key is to move your reactions from this unconscious system to conscious control of your reactions.

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is where we consciously decide to react. This is the place Esther Hicks is encouraging us to go. This is where we can stop our unconscious negative reactions and consciously choose a new, better reality. This is where we can escape our fear-based mind and view situations openly. This is where we can find compassion, understanding, and peace. One of the reasons I preach the importance of mindfulness, is that meditation and conscious regulation of our minds is how we can strength our ACC and help us use that system instead of being blindly led by our unconscious danger reaction system.

Instead of trying to control your spouse, your boss, or world leaders, instead of feeling the need for others to change so you can feel good, spend some time releasing the unconscious fear-based mental system and strengthening your ACC. Try to find the truth of situations, not your judgments. Learn the power of acceptance instead of attack. And you will find that you can create a new, better reality for yourself.

sulking child

Look for the Lesson

Sometimes people don’t understand me because I don’t let my emotions run away with me (for the most part). A car cuts me off and I smile and wave. When someone is rude to me I only become more kind to them. In the current world where righteous indignation is prized and promoted, I don’t fit the mold.

And I’m happy.

Happy I don’t fit the mold. And happy because I don’t fit the mold.

sulking childSome of us live in a world where we feel the victim. We give others our power and then when they use that power against us, we are angry.

Some of us live in a world of competition. Attacking anything and everyone to get on top and feel safe.

Some of us live in a world of mistrust, blaming others for our problems.

Some of us see the world as a struggle, making challenges and issues where there are none.

Me? I live in a world where every interaction is an opportunity to rise above, be the best person I can be, learn, and change. Every conflict is an opportunity for growth. Every confrontation is a window into the other.

Don’t get me wrong. I am human and have my share of emotions. Emotions are important. Emotions are indicators. They let us know what is working and what is not working in our lives. Emotions wake us up to something to solve, something to change. The problem arises when we let our emotions take charge of our actions. It is powerful and necessary to feel anger when someone has wronged us so that we can fix the problem or remove ourselves from the situation. But if we allow ourselves to act with anger, we only create more issues.

What if instead of going off on a tirade about what wrong has happened to you, you look for a solution? And if there is no solution, what if you look for acceptance?

Besides emotions indicating when a situation needs to be addressed, being triggered is also a chance to learn about the other. We often see ourselves as the center of the universe, as the lead in a movie. Therefore, we see everyone’s actions in terms of us. The truth is, people act independent of us. They have their own movie and universe to contend with. When we believe that people are specifically acting to hurt or harm us, we are not seeing the real picture. We need to look for their motivation.

Recently an individual decided to slander me and attempted to destroy some of my relationships. At first my emotions – anger, fear, sadness – kicked in to let me know something was not right. Then I had two choices. I could try to defend myself against untruths and fight back with anger and malice. I took the other route. I looked deeper than this person’s external actions. I saw that they were insecure and were attacking out of a feeling of defense. It wasn’t the best idea, but it was their truth. I let the attacks linger in the air, I shared the truth with some who needed to know, and then I removed myself from the situation. If I would have allowed my anger to get the better of me, I would have lashed out with the same unjustified bitterness as this individual, just causing more issues.

What if instead of labeling the other as mean or rude, you can see the struggle they are going through and how much pain they must be feeling? How would you address conflicts differently?

This week be aware of your emotions. What are they telling you? Then look for the logical solution or if necessary, accept the situation for what it is – in either case, do what you need to feel good again. For bonus points, look at the one causing you pain. Look deep inside them and see their own pain making them act in the way they do.