Growth After Trauma or Loss Part 2

woman cryIn a recent article on Post-Traumatic Growth I discussed the affect of trauma on personal growth. Outcomes of trauma include such things as deeper relationships, spiritual development, more personal strength, new opportunities, and a greater appreciation for life in general.  So how does that happen?

Stages of Post-Traumatic Growth


Part 1: “Shattered”

When tragedy occurs, the effect is like an earthquake that shatters all of our assumptions.  Any sense of safety or predictability in life is lost.  Religious beliefs can be threatened–out of anger or disillusionment many withdraw from their faith groups and lose that support as well. Physical trauma can mean loss of work, and with that a loss of identity or life purpose.  This is amplified a thousand times when a parent loses a child.  Loss of any loved one means that the future is shattered, and all the dreams that were shared are gone. This is called the “assumptive world” and it includes all of our beliefs, dreams, and comforts.  With tragedy, this assumptive world is devastated.

Part 2: “Ruminating”

There is an incredible amount of processing of “ruminating” that happens after trauma.  Questions begin to flow: Why did this happen? How it could have been prevented. Who is to blame? Is any ‘meaning’ to be found out of this? What will happen next?  Emotions range from sadness to anger, fear, and even guilt for being “the survivor” or for not doing “enough” in some way. It’s in this stage that the person struggles against the reality of all the loss and all of the change.

Surprisingly it’s not primarily the optimistic people who grow the most from loss.  Nor is it the most “resilient” people. In fact, if you have depression, anxieties, phobias, or a negative attitude, you are about as likely to grow from trauma as someone without these traits. In terms of personality traits there were only a couple that seemed related to growth. Those were extraversion and openness to feelings.  To be open to feeling the full weight of sorrow, without avoidance or distraction, and to be willing to share some piece of this experience makes a difference long-term.

More than any personal trait, it seems that the length of the rumination period is the key for growth. It can’t be rushed. In fact, any attempt to “get over it quick” or suppress the emotions turns out to be more harmful in the long run. This cognitive processing needs to occur, and has to last a while (probably months, but not years) for a person to experience post-traumatic growth. The processing period has to be long enough to accomplish two things: 1. examine and acknowledge the impact on yourself, and 2. come to some resolution that is coherent and perhaps even positive in some way.  The resolution must contain more acceptance than regret.

Part 3: “Rebuilding”

In the ruminating period there was a battle between regret and acceptance. According to research, people who get “stuck” are those that continue to have counter-factual thinking: “If only this happened instead of that…”, etc. Those that find a way to accept the change now begin to rebuild. In the rebuilding stage, you have disengaged from old goals and started creating new ones.

Many discover that they are carrying opposites within themselves. New personal strengths live side by side with a strong sense of their own vulnerability. Experiences that should drive a person into a life of fear and caution often create the opposite: an unexpected shot of courage. Closed doors cause new ones to open.  New limitations demand creativity, from which new freedoms and opportunities arise. Always, there is deep sense of loss, but now it somehow coexists with a new-found appreciation for the simple joys of living.

Growth After Trauma or Loss

What kind of growth comes after trauma or loss? Many trauma survivors say that they’ve “grown” after their loss, but what does that actually mean?

19 year old Jane experiences the death of a close friend.  Intrusive images and thoughts bother her for months.  She keeps wondering if she could have done something to prevent it.  She can’t help but feel guilty that she wasn’t a “better friend”. Once a faithful churchgoer, she hardly knows what she believes any more.  Above all, it’s hard for her to imagine her future after this tragic event.

Jorge is a 38 year old who became paraplegic in a car accident at age 22.  He would love to have the use of his legs again, but will also readily admit that his life has become far more meaningful since the tragedy.  He thrives in a tight community of athletes with similar injuries and has made it his mission to help others recover through sports.

What is post-traumatic growth? How does it happen?

Post-Traumatic Growth

When a trauma occurs it means a dramatic change in our circumstances.  The future, as we imagined it, has been stolen away.  We find ourselves caught between the torn edges of what was and what now is.  It’s surprising how often that struggle creates some positive changes along the way.  It seems that once our reality is shattered, we have an unusual opportunity to build a completely new one with new motivations, new decisions, and a change in outlook.  Researchers find that these changes occur in these areas:

  • A greater appreciation for life and a new set of priorities
  • Deeper, more intimate relationships
  • A greater sense of personal strength
  • A recognition of new paths available to us
  • Spiritual development

Think about that list.  We’d buy a dozen self-help books on any of these topics if we thought they would actually help us change in these areas.  The irony with trauma is that it’s the thing would avoid it at all cost and yet it often brings us exactly those things we want most in life.

The Paradox of Growth and Trauma

Post-traumatic growth is never as simple as “this bad thing happened and now my life is wonderful”.  Any new appreciation for life now lives side-by-side with the ongoing distress and sadness of loss.  Trauma survivors will usually tell you that they would fore-go all of this ‘growth’ if they could reverse the loss that they had.  At the same time, they may have some gratitude about the changes that happened to them after that horrible experience.

It’s as if the trauma makes us capable of carrying opposite viewpoints within ourselves.  Trauma survivors will report a greater awareness of vulnerability, yet with a greater acceptance of the unknown.  They may have a stronger feeling of spirituality that now coexists side-by-side with an anger or questioning of God or His existence.  They may be more cautious (i.e. driving, health, etc.) but at the same time, less worried in general about “what could happen”. They may feel like all of their plans have come to ruin while at the same time have a new sense of clarity and purpose.

In my next post I would like to explore the changes that happen after the loss and how they helps or hinder the post-traumatic growth.


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The Power of Our Assumptions

There may be no greater power in our lives than the power of our assumptions. Our assumptions form a fence around us in a way that both comforts us and limits our potential.


Once life presents us with the raw material of our experiences, our assumptions form an assembly line that produces our moods. One of the most common (and most researched) forms of therapy works by confronting faulty assumptions. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is commonly used for anxiety, depression, addictions, phobias, eating disorders and more. Some of the most common assumptions (or distortions) are listed here.


Scholar Marshall McLuhan once said that “We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t the fish.” How do we know if we have faulty assumptions? We usually don’t. The whole point is that our beliefs feel like “facts” to us. They are like a computer virus that runs imperceptibly…until things start to slow down and malfunction.

You know are infected with a “faulty assumption” when you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Frequent frustration with other people
  • Persistent anxiety, depression, or anger
  • Frustration with the way “things are” but no clear idea of how to change them
  • An inability to make a necessary change
  • The feeling that we are somehow stuck or stagnant

So how do you get rid of the “assumption virus”?

It’s Not Easy

Our assumptions are a part of our identity. We inherit them from our parents, borrow them from our peers, and absorb them from our culture. We will subconsciously defend and protect them, ignoring any contrary evidence. These harmful beliefs can persist even after years of psychotherapy. And yet it’s one simple thing that can set us free.


When we become curious about the beliefs of successful people, we have a chance to change our own. Granted, we’re already curious about what famous people do, i.e. where they vacation, what they look like in frumpy clothes, etc. We also like it when they give us “Tips for Success”, but they usually turn out to be the same tips for success that unsuccessful people might give us. In the end, our success or failure depends so much more on our inner world of our assumptions than any “How-to” list.


This is a sure way to discover the beliefs that hold us back:

FIRST: Find someone (a friend?) who is more successful than you at something. Or better yet, find someone who seems to have sense of peace or joy that you wish you had.

SECOND: Listen to them carefully, noting what their beliefs are about their own potential, the priorities of their day, what helps them, how they interpret the actions of others, and their thoughts about living in general. Listen for what they believe is possible and what is not.

THIRD (and this is the key): check your own REACTION. Whether you say it out loud or in your head, listen for statements like these:

“But aren’t you worried that…?”

“Doesn’t it bother you that…?”

“But what if … happens?”

“I can’t imagine how you…”

“Yeah, but…”

And there is the virus. Right there is the crossroads where their assumptions have given them freedom and ours have created a fence.

And all that remains is the courage to change our thinking.


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Job Satisfaction: Self-Determination Theory Part 2

What are the biggest factors in job satisfaction?  Great pay, luxury, fun, prestige, job security, meaningful work, perhaps a job that serves a “higher purpose”?  According to motivation research, none of these are the ticket to an engaging and satisfying career.

Researchers in self-determination theory (SDT) tell us that an activity motivates us if it provides a sense of Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness.  None of these are as exciting as a fat paycheck or a chance to “change the world”, but they are the main factors that engage people with their work. The more a job feeds our basic needs, the more we can develop our true  potential.

What’s An Ideal Career Like?

A “great” job might feel like this:

Competence: You feel like you can take on and master difficult challenges.  It’s not easy, but you’ve got what it takes to be successful.

Relatedness: You feel close and connected with people, or have a sense that you are in contact with people that care about you and vice-versa.

Autonomy: You feel like the choices you get to make at work arise from your own personal interests and values.  You often get to do things “your own way”.

So Let’s Be Realistic

OK, when you’re jobless, the main thing is to get a job.  You gotta eat.  It might not satisfy all your needs.  The critical thing is what you do next.  Do I take a promotion if it’s offered?  When other jobs come up, which do I choose?   Job perks can seem like shiny objects that draw us like a moth to a flame.  Sometimes it’s the jobs that are the least fulfilling that have the shiniest perks. That’s a trap–the perks may be there exactly because job satisfaction is low. The trick is to find out how people at that job feel regarding those three core needs.  Don’t waste time talking about the perks.

Also, once you’ve got a job, it won’t satisfy all of your needs right away—no one’s going to let you be “autonomous” if you’re not “competent” yet.  And relationships take time.  But there should be some reassuring signs that at least some of these needs will be met.

What About The Money?!

Nine times out of ten, money follows motivation.  Raises, promotions, length of career, the courage to venture out on your own—all of these things come from motivation.  Amazing things can happen when we’re wholly engaged with our work.  Conversely, burnout can be pretty costly…

What About Personality?

“Know thyself” is not bad advice.  Jobs fit personalities.  But even if a career counselor can match you to a job, they can’t tell you if it’s going to fit your needs from a SDT perspective.  Why not? For one thing, you could work the same job in two different settings, where your needs are met in one but not in the other.  So what do you do?  Talk to people doing the job in as many different settings as possible.  Try to imagine how well you might do in their place (after all, they may be incompetent or unsuited towards a job that you might be successful at, etc.).

Our Role In Job Satisfaction

It’s fair to say that a big part of your satisfaction isn’t up to your boss.  If you’re not Competent, then it’s up to us to learn.  When it comes to Relatedness, it’s partly on us to build those relationships. Also, we don’t always exercise all of the Autonomy we’ve been given.  It’s tempting and “safe” to do things the way everyone else does, even if our own creativity or values suggest a different  approach.

Choosing a job is a big deal.  Some of us spend at least a third of our waking hours at work, so feeling engaged there could be 1/3 of our life satisfaction.  Looking at it another way, whatever we learn about our own life satisfaction or about our personal motivators, we could also try to bring to our work since we’re there so much anyways.

We are only truly trapped in life when we refuse to think creatively.

You Don’t Need More Motivation: Self-Determination Theory Part 1

A person can spend a lifetime trying to become “more motivated” without ever realizing that it’s not the amount of motivation that matters—it’s the type.  Usually when people talk about needing to be more motivated, they are talking about emotional motivation.

Consider these statements:

 “I feel so unmotivated right now.”

“That speech was so motivating!”

“I am sooo excited about my new job.”

What do they all have in common? They all describe the AMOUNT of motivation.  And it’s all emotional.  So why is that a problem?  Because emotional motivation only lasts as long as the emotion does. Don’t get me wrong–emotional motivation has its place.  You’ll never parachute out of an airplane or ask that stunning person out on a date without some burst of emotional motivation.  But if you ever want to be the pilot of that airplane, or if you want that first date to last a lifetime, then you’re going to have to have an enduring kind of motivation.

The Keys to Enduring Motivation

Of the following list, which of these do you think are the most motivating?

  • Security
  • Potential for increased money or possessions
  • Influence and impact on the lives of others
  • Pleasure and sensation
  • Autonomy: freedom to make choices based on your own values or interests
  • Physical thriving and physical well-being
  • Relatedness: sense of connection and intimacy with others
  • Meaningfulness and deep purpose – becoming  “who you really are”
  • Competence – being able to take on challenging tasks and complete them successfully

They are all big motivators, but the three strongest creators of long-lasting motivation are Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence.

Self-Determination Theory

Self-determination Theory (through the research of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan) opened the door to a completely new understanding of motivation that focused on type, rather than amount. In study after study it was found repeatedly that autonomy, relatedness and competence were the most motivating factors in over the long term.  Children raised in an environment with these three motivators are the most self motivated.  Job sites where these are engendered are the most motivating.  Teachers who create this atmosphere have the most motivated students. Friendships, romance, sports, etc—the list goes on. The idea is that these three things are basic human needs that speak to the deepest part of ourselves.  Whenever we find something that meets these core needs, we’re motivated to stay with it.  When those core needs can’t be met, then we have to resort to external motivators like reward or punishment to motivate ourselves or others.  People that are externally motivated tend to be less satisfied.

In this five part series on Self-Determination, we’ll dive in to the basic machinery of what keeps people motivated and happy.

The Danger of Normal Behavior

What is “normal”? We all experience a subconscious ‘tug’ towards what is considered normal behavior.  Even in an individualistic culture, those rare bursts of individualism usually appear the areas of style or opinion. In general,  we drift towards the middle. Like gazelles, we find that we are safest somewhere in the center of the herd.

But what if normal isn’t safe?  In the Middle Ages, it was ‘normal’ to store sewage in the house and then dump it out on the street. To relieve yourself wherever convenient. To bathe only occasionally.  To undergo surgery without antiseptic (or anesthetic in some cases). A lot of progress has been made since then, eh? But what sorts of norms are hazardous now?

Food, Love, and Friendship


What is the “normal meal”?  It could be the small “combo meal” at a fast food joint, or the “standard serving” at a chain restaurant. However for many people, this standard serving is about double to triple the amount of calories that would be safe for that person.  For many people, eating “normal” servings is a recipe for obesity that comes along with a lifelong helping of discomfort, fatigue, pain, disability, depression, and possibly surgeries. For some, eating much less than a normal serving will have the same result. All the while, our instincts are telling us that as long as we’re eating “better than average”, then we should be healthy and safe.  The reality is that currently 69% of Americans are overweight or obese, which means that there is no safety in normal.  If you feed your kids a ‘normal diet’, they have a 32% chance of being overweight or obese. Experts are suggesting that this may be the first time in centuries where the children will have a shorter lifespan than their parents. The reality is that the game is rigged so that “normal eating” is dangerous, indeed.


When it comes to romance, normal is a little risky as well.  If you find a partner through one of the “normal venues” and have a “normal” approach to courtship, sex, and conflict, then your chances of divorce or separation are quite high (though divorce dose appear to be decreasing in the US…along with marriages).

If you are a woman and you date men that have a “pretty normal” attitude towards women, there is incredible risk of suffering: ¼ women will suffer domestic violence, 1/6 will experience attempted rape, and 1/12 will be stalked.

If you are a teen girl and you have a “normal dating life”, you will start dating before age 14 (3/4), and you have decent odds of being pressured to perform sex acts (1/4).  You may have a hard time breaking up, since 1/5 “normal” guys will threaten to hurt you or kill themselves if you do.  If you are a parent with a ‘normal’ amount of communication with your teen, you won’t know about most of this.


Researchers suggest that Americans have experienced a decline in “close friendships” since 1985.  They attribute this to people being increasingly “busy”, “independent”, “not wanting to seem needy”, and “respecting others privacy”. So if you’re pretty normal in your level of “busyness, independence, or un-needyness”, then your risk of being lonely is high.  Up to 1/5 ‘normal’ people state that they are unhappy due to loneliness.  In fact 25% people surveyed say that they have no one right now that they could confide in about a serious issue, whereas in 1985, only about 7% of people felt that way.  Actually, despite the so-called “independent spirit” of Americans, they had more friendships than most–the most severely isolated people were actually women in Japan and men in Mexico.

Beating the Bell Curve

These experiences are the average ones, but they are not everyone’s.  People that beat the norm are people that have become comfortable with that unbalanced feeling of living outside of the bell curve.  They are willing to endure the waves of self-doubt that inevitably occur when they are reminded that their efforts are not typical.  Many times social pressures will arise to try to criticize people back towards the norm. Nature resists whatever is “unnatural”.  However, social pressure doesn’t have to be the enemy.  Most people that make successful changes do so by connecting with other like-minded people. They create their own herd.  Nowadays you don’t even have to live with your “herd”.  You can live with a group of grease-eating couch potatoes but find your own tribe of marathoners or vegans somewhere on the web. People often choose their destiny when they choose their peers.  In such a group, you can be abnormal together, in a way that feels strangely…normal.

The Scavenger Hunt of Life

Do you remember scavenger hunts?  People in a race against time to complete a bizarre list?  Where you have to find a red shoe, obtain a business card from a policeman, or try to get a stranger to kiss you?  In the end, the winner is left with nothing but the glory of victory and  a pile of useless items.

Is our life so different?  A race to collect a bunch of items or to “do” certain things before it’s “all over”.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if we found ourselves at the end of life having accomplished a list that really never suited us in the first place? Who writes this “list” anyways?

The Right List

The “list” we carry within us is invisible but powerful.  Isn’t it interesting how often people will marry some version of their parent regardless of whether that was a great parent or not?

What about:

-the older man who is still trying to date girls that would have impressed his buddies from high school?

-the woman who got married young or got into drugs or decided to go to college mostly because that’s what her peers were doing?

-the 60-year-old businessman, still chasing his father’s approval in a career that never really suited him?

A lot of failed first careers and first marriages come from trying to match a list of features that didn’t fit us to start with.  Perhaps we could blame the job or the spouse, but for some reason it made sense to pursue that person or that job. The features they had were on the list.  But it was the wrong list.

Then there are advertisements, movies, TV, that helps us decide how we want to be, where it’s popular to vacation, and what’s important to own. If we’re going to write our own story, it makes sense to acknowledge that the ‘scavenger hunt’ list that we’re starting with is probably littered with other people’s ambitions and values.


Like characters in the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” it’s easy to pass through life performing in a “role” that obscures our personality or the deeper parts of who we are.  Usually scavenger hunts are ice-breakers or team building activities that help us break out of these ‘roles’ in order to connect with each other. In a scavenger hunt we get to see each other outside of our “roles”.  We get to see the girl that’s usually Gucci-ed and Louis Vutton-ed plowing through the lingerie in Wal-Mart trying to find the biggest polka dot panties they sell.  The facade is lifted just enough to get a glimpse of a person’s ‘real self’.  And we like that.

Support and Risk

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained”, they say.  But what is it that keeps us from “venturing”?

Fear.  Of doing our best and failing. Of making the wrong choice.  Of looking like a fool.

With a scavenger hunt, the embarrassment is not a thing to fear–in fact, embarrassment is probably of the point of it.  When we have spent much of life avoiding making a fool of ourselves, it’s somehow cathartic to go ahead and do it on purpose (insert Karaoke, Charades, etc. here).  There’s also something exhilarating about being part of a team,  struggling together towards a common goal.  It’s even better if there’s a challenge or risk involved. Everyone is stretching themselves and taking the same risks together. There’s little distinction between the “losers” and the “winners” in a scavenger hunt because they both took risks, stretched themselves in whatever silly way, and left the game with new relationships and memories.  Like life, that’s really the point of it all.

To be loved, you must be truly seen.  We connect more deeply with people who know all our strengths and weaknesses but still accept us. There’s no reason that we can’t find people in life who will support us when we take a risk and “shoot for the stars”.  There are people that will take the risks with us, or support us from the sidelines.  There are people who want more from us than our facade and we’ll be greatly rewarded when we take that risk to deepen a friendship.  People like that might be a good thing to add to our scavenger hunt list.

Mine is just one perspective of what makes a good ‘list’, but everyone’s different.  Some will feel the need to leave behind an Eiffel Tower or a War and Peace.  The main thing is that it’s OUR list, that we clean out the refuse of old influences or the more recent additions of media and culture. One list of things to consider is here. Other questions might include:

What am I great at?  What am I drawn to?

What would I try if embarrassment were not an issue?

What would be a valuable risk to take? Which people would join me or support me in some venture of courage and risk?

What’s on my list to do, to have, and to be?

Money and the Pursuit of Happiness

Though we all tend to want more of it, there’s quite a bit of evidence that having more money doesn’t improve our happiness overall (especially in wealthier societies).  One group of researchers set out to answer the question, “Why not?”

In the article “Money Giveth, Money Taketh Away: The Dual Effect of Wealth on Happiness”, it’s suggested that the inability of money to improve happiness was partly caused by the issue of savoring.  Savoring is about enjoying what is happening right now: a cool breeze, the taste of chocolate, the color of light shining through a window, the warmth of a compliment, or the electricity of an unexpected smile.  Much of our happiness comes from our ability to savor our experiences.

Savoring is about enjoying what is happening right now: a cool breeze, the taste of chocolate, the color of light shining through a window, the warmth of a compliment, or the electricity of an unexpected smile.  Much of our happiness comes from our ability to savor our experiences.

In this study they found that people having more wealth tended to have a LOWER ability to savor positive emotions like joy, contentment, awe, excitement, pride, and gratitude.  Furthermore, even thinking about money (i.e. being subtly exposed to a picture of bills) decreased their savoring tendencies.

In another arm of the same study, participants were observed eating chocolate.  The researchers measured the amount of time it took to eat it as well as the amount of enjoyment the participants expressed.  Half the participants had been subtly exposed to a picture of cash while the other half had not. People that were exposed to the picture of money savored the chocolate less and for a shorter period of time (incidentally, the female subjects in both groups savored the chocolate significantly longer than men, which is interesting all by itself…).

Is Money a Downer?

Most of us probably feel that we’re not rich enough to be worried about this study…except for one little thing:  In both parts of the study, participants seemed to lose their savoring ability even if they were just thinking about money whether they were wealthy or not.  And, by the way, who thinks about money almost as much as people who have it? PEOPLE WHO DON’T! Is it possible that the concept of money could be a buzzkill for anyone?  In a way it doesn’t make sense–don’t we all get a little excited when we’ve finally saved up some cash, or when the stock market rises?  Is money always a killjoy?

Money and Savoring

Money is a transitional object. It has no purpose other than to be turned into something else. Until you make a purchase, money simply represents potential, like a heavy object suspended in the air, waiting to be dropped. Debt feels the same way.  Even if you have cash invested somewhere, it’s either growing or shrinking (or suffocating from inflation).  Money is an unsettled thing, a distraction. It represents the mystery of what happens NEXT.  Could this be why it impairs savoring so much?  Time and money, the twin figureheads of a productive society, are ever there to distract us into thoughts of the future, and away from the Now.  Must that suspended weight of debt or investment hang over our head and cast a shadow on every moment?

Perhaps not.  Perhaps, like a beast of burden, we can tame it, corral it, and place it into a corner of our life where it can’t trample our gardens or spoil our party. It might break free from time to time, but all we have to do is lead it back into its cage, feed it at some appointed time, and retrieve it whenever it’s needed to further our life’s work.

Desire in Behavior Change

This is a guest post by Brenden Hanks, MD.

“I want to change, but…” The phrase is said so often its meaning is almost lost, yet it speaks to the dilemma we often find ourselves in. We earnestly desire to improve our thoughts, actions, and minds but struggle to sustain any meaningful change. “You have to want it,” we’re told, but this reply seems inaccurate and frustrating. Inaccurate, because we really do want to lose weight, stop smoking or learn to speak French, and frustrating because it doesn’t offer a better way.

In my experience, a more complete and useful statement would be to say “You have to want it more.” More than you want to feel safe in doing the same things you have always done. More than you want the same successes you currently enjoy or the pleasures you currently feel.

One day you’ll come home from work and want to turn on Rosetta Stone more than you want to watch Monday Night Football. That’s the day you’ll begin to learn French. The discs may have sat in the bright yellow packaging for years, and you may have wanted to parley-vous since the eighth grade, but they will remain shrink-wrapped until the day you want it more.


Stopping unwanted behaviors, like smoking or overeating, is much the same. It is worth noting that these choices, poor as they may be, are also made from our wants and desires. It’s no secret that we desire the richness of a layered turtle cheesecake and the subtle stimulation of a cigarette after lunch. No matter how often we tell ourselves that we shouldn’t want these things, we still do. To lie to ourselves and pretend that we don’t creates internal division. And, like a house divided against itself, our attempts to un-want will not stand.

The answer then, lies in being aware of what we want, both healthy and not, and deepening our desires for the better things.

Focus and Practice

I’ve never improved my diet by considering all of the myriad desserts I shouldn’t eat (to the contrary, it only awakens sleeping cravings).  I have, however, found it easy to choose oatmeal while thinking about how much better I feel when I do! Your better choices are better for a reason. Focus on that reason and your wants will follow.

As you do start to make better choices, you’ll find you have even more reasons to continue to do so. Having experienced the benefits of jogging regularly, I want that feeling of vitality only more!

Our Strongest Desires

In conclusion, our behaviors reflect our strongest desires, for better or for worse. Once we understand this, we can put this principle to work for us by deepening our desires for what we know to be best. It is no sacrifice to choose what you want most and know to be best.

Brenden Hanks is a practicing anesthesiologist in Colorado with a continuing interest in motivation and change.

How to Persuade Skeptical People

How can you persuade people when it seems like everyone is so skeptical?  In a previous article, I discussed the idea that trust is going out of style. Like the little boy who cried “wolf”, we’ve been mislead so many times by someone falsely shouting “truth” that we may never hear the truth when it’s finally spoken. What if you have a product or message that truly is valuable?  How can you possibly get your point across in this era of skepticism?


Getting someone to believe you is only half the battle. First you have to get them to listen.  The media world is now 90% noise, with hundreds of TV channels and millions of websites, all plastered with more ads than a NASCAR racer.  To wade through the noise, readers and consumers filter for the information, news, products, and advice that suits them, typically from sources that they already know they will agree with.

Trust expert Michael Maslansky says that to get someone to listen to you, you must first acknowledge and validate their worldview.  People are usually going to continue believing what they already believe.  It’s just too risky (and time consuming) for them to reconsider their opinions about politics, religion, the opposite sex, and so on.  To engage a modern person, you have to be willing to imagine where they are coming from and use that as your starting point. Maslansky says that you must start with assumption that their position is “reasonable, understandable, and important”.

There’s a little risk in that as well.  If you dare to truly understand a person, you may end up changing YOUR OWN OPINION in favor of theirs.  At any rate, if you are willing to take that kind risk, you are going to be listened to.  Understanding their worldview also means listening through their ears.  It’s what they hear, not what you say, that matters most.  Even the kindest, most well intended message will be misunderstood if you use words that feed into a negative notion of what your message represents.  What’s the worst possible way that they could interpret your message?

Be Honest

That sounds obvious.  But by honest, I mean thoroughly honest.  People know that whatever it is you’re selling is not “the perfect solution” and that whatever message you have is not “totally new”.  People are realistic–they don’t really expect a product or message to solve all of their problems and they know they have other options. They also know that there are two sides to every issue.  So share both sides when you are making your point.  If you have faults, or have made mistakes, then concede them.  Take responsibility.  We’ve all seen that a politician who apologizes is at least a little more respectable than the one that just denies everything or blames someone else. You can’t really hide the truth these days.

Don’t Scare People

Fear sells. We’ve seen it with televangelists, insurance policies, “last chance offers”, and so on.  But the problem is that fear has been a little overdone.  Twenty minutes of news will convince us that the world, the economy, the atmosphere, and probably our own neighborhood are generally treacherous. The sky is always falling.  People can’t psychologically survive a lifetime of such fears, so they tend to repress or ignore all of those fearful realities (even the important ones). It’s a natural defense mechanism to keep the brain from totally fritzing.  So if you try to scare someone into buying your idea or product, you’ll probably just send them browsing elsewhere.  True, if they’re a bit paranoid you might capture their attention for a minute but you’ll be yesterday’s palpitation just as soon as someone more frightening comes along.

Be “For” Something

As much as possible make the case of what you are “for” instead of just what you are “against”.  If your presence in the web (or the world) is only to be against something, you may gain the support of sympathetic readers, but you will fail at the goal of being an agent of change.  In the rejection of a product, idea, or practice, there is an underlying rejection of any person associated.  Why would I look for people that are against me, unless I just want to argue?

A great communicator like Martin Luther King certainly had lots of things to be “against”.  He would have gained a large following just by collecting people that were against all of the same injustices.  Yet it was his words about what he was “for” that captured the hearts of people.  In his words, “I have a dream…” he gave all people a chance to dream together instead getting trapped in a gridlock of what they were “against”.

The book “The Language of Trust” was an importance source for this article, as were my readings on Motivational Interviewing.


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