Archive for love

Remember How Strong You Are


May 14, 2015

In early March of 2011, I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay, California, where I was scheduled to speak later that morning. Although it was a pretty big event, I wasn’t feeling all that nervous about it-I had other things on my mind. I called one of my best friends, Theo, to reach out for his support. Theo and I have been friends for more than a decade-we’ve helped each other through a lot of big life stuff, even though we live on opposites sides of the country and due to our busy schedules don’t actually get to see each other in person all that much. I love, trust, and admire Theo a great deal-not only is he one of the smartest people I know, he’s also one of those people you can call at 3 a.m. and know he’ll be there for you.

That particular morning the conversation focused completely on me and our house situation. We’d been trying to work with our lender to figure out how to get out from under the enormous negative equity position we were in. Things were really up in the air with the bank, doing a short sale wasn’t looking all that good, and the reality that we might simply need to walk away and have them foreclose on us was a real possibility. I felt paralyzed by my fear, shame, and embarrassment, and I was completely overwhelmed by the circumstances.

I said, “I don’t know if I can handle this. I can’t believe we put ourselves in this situation. How could I have allowed this to happen? I feel like an idiot!”

Theo listened with empathy and understanding. Then he said, “First of all, Mike, stop being so hard on yourself. Yes, you’ve made some mistakes, but you’re learning from them and you’re clearly not an idiot. Second of all, even with the mistakes you’ve made, a lot of people are in your same situation. It’s not your fault that the economy crashed and the housing market imploded. And, finally, it’s important to remember that you have more than this requires.”

As I allowed what he said to resonate with me, I was touched by a few specific things. First of all, I was reminded once again why Theo has been a constant in my life. He’s always able to acknowledge the reality of a situation and then put it in perspective. Second of all, his words made me stop and take inventory of some of the adversity I’ve overcome in my life. In so doing, I was reminded that I am actually quite resilient. I got to thinking more and more about my own internal strength (and the strength we each possess as human beings) over the hours and days that followed our conversation.

In just about every situation and circumstance in life, we really do have more than is required to not only deal with what’s happening, but to thrive in the face of it. As the saying goes, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. While I don’t believe that we have to necessarily suffer and struggle in order to grow and evolve in life, one of the best things we can do when dealing with a major challenge is to look for the gifts and to find the gold in the situation as much as possible.

Each of us has overcome a lot in our lives-both big and small. If you spend enough time walking around the planet, chances are you’ll experience some significant adversity. Dealing with and overcoming it not only teaches us a lot about ourselves, others, and life, but also gives us the opportunity to be reminded of our own power and strength. It’s not that we won’t feel scared, overwhelmed, angry, sad, embarrassed, confused, worried, or more-these feelings and many others are often a part of going through adverse times. However, remembering that “this, too, shall pass” will help us persevere in the midst of challenges, while reminding us that we can actually expand ourselves in the process.

One of the most painful yet growth-inducing experiences of my life was when I got my heart broken in my mid-20s. Sara and I met in college and started dating in our senior year. We were together for three and a half years, and had gotten pretty serious. Going through college graduation, the end of my baseball career, moving in together, the sudden death of her father, the start of our first jobs, a breakup and reconciliation two years into our relationship, and more had bonded us significantly.

In the fall of 1999, Sara decided she didn’t want to be with me anymore, and we split up abruptly. I was crushed. I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. I’d never experienced emotions like this before in my life. It was hard to eat, sleep, and even get out of bed in the morning. I felt lost and worried I would never find my way again. At one point when I was deep in the throes of my despair, I remember having a vision that I was a running back in a football game. This was an odd vision for me, since I’d never played football. However, I saw myself running with the ball toward the end zone. There were a bunch of guys trying to tackle me, but I was holding on to the ball with both hands, driving my legs as hard as I could, and doing everything possible not to let them bring me down. This vision felt like a sign to me-that the pain, confusion, and loneliness were there for a reason. Although it was difficult, I was strong enough to withstand it, and if I continued to persevere, I would be okay.

While it did take some time, a lot of forgiveness, support, and inner work, I moved through that painful experience and gained a great deal in the process. I learned how strong I was, gained a deeper awareness and empathy for the experience of loss and heartbreak, and came away with a greater understanding of what’s important to me in relationships and in life. Going through that heartache made me a better person and also helped get me ready to meet Michelle, which I’m eternally grateful for.

When we remember how strong we are, not only can it help us as we face challenges or adversity in the moment, it can give us much needed confidence and faith that we actually have what it takes to navigate this crazy and beautiful thing called life. As Glennon Melton, author of Carry On, Warrior and creator of one of my favorite blogs, Momastery, likes to say, “Life can be hard sometimes, but that’s okay, because we can do hard things.”

This is an excerpt from Nothing Changes Until You Do, by Mike Robbins posted  with permission.  Published by Hay House (May, 2015 in paperback) and available online or in bookstores.

What can you (or do you) do to remember how strong you are? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more below.

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Culture and Chemistry Matter

football fansOctober 30, 2014

Wow… that was an unbelievable World Series!  If you watched it passionately as I did, you know what I’m talking about.  Even if you didn’t and you don’t know or care that much about baseball or sports, there are a number of things that made this World Series remarkable and also some important things we can learn from it that go way beyond baseball and sports in general.

First of all, the San Francisco Giants won their third World Series title in five years.  That is almost impossible to do, especially in this day and age in pro baseball and also because each of the three Giants teams that have won the World Series in recent years (2010, 2012, 2014) didn’t have the most talent, the best record, or the numbers to “justify” their success.

Second of all, no one expected the Giants or their World Series opponent, the Kansas City Royals, to be in the World Series this year.  The Giants had a stretch of about two months this season where they were literally the worst team in baseball and they barely even made the playoffs.  The Royals as an organization hadn’t made it to the playoffs in 29 years, had almost no players on their roster with post season experience, and also barely made the playoffs themselves.  Both teams were “underdogs” the whole way and beat teams that were supposed to beat them.  Even when they were playing each other, it seemed like they were both underdogs in the World Series.

Third of all, and probably most important, what we learned from this post season, this World Series, and especially from these two remarkable teams who both “over-achieved” is that culture and chemistry matter!  In fact, they both showed that these things are actually more important than talent, statistics, and conventional wisdom.

I’ve had the honor of working with the San Francisco Giants organization since early in the season in 2010 and I’ve seen first-hand how they have built an incredible culture throughout their entire organization.  While some of the core players have stayed the same, a good number of players have changed throughout this incredible run. What hasn’t changed, and has only increased, is their focus on culture and chemistry, and the way they come together as a team at the most important moments.  It is not an accident they have had so much success over the past five seasons.

I had the honor of playing in the Kansas City Royals organization – they drafted me out of Stanford in 1995 and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to play pro baseball.  I played three seasons in their minor league system before an arm injury ended my playing career.  And while I no longer have many personal connections to the organization, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Royals organization and for Kansas City.  They have great fans and they haven’t had much to cheer about with the Royals for the past 29 years.

What I loved seeing and learning about this Royals team was how much heart, passion, and joy they played the game with… and how much they embraced the moment and enjoyed the incredible ride they were on.  In the post game interviews after losing a heart-breaking game 7 by a score of 3-2 (with the tying run just 90 feet away from scoring), many of the Royals players and their manager talked about how much fun they had, how proud they were of themselves and each other, and how amazing the fans in Kansas City are.  Of course they were disappointed, but they focused on some of the incredible aspects of what they had accomplished and what they appreciated about the experience.  That was not only classy of them, but remarkable and inspiring!

There are so many things we can learn from these two teams and from this World Series.  Whether in sports, business, or life – we have all had experiences of being around a group of people where the talent was strong, but the team wasn’t.  And, on the flip side, we’ve all been involved with groups of people where we may not have had “all stars” in every spot, but there was something special about how our team came together and performed as a unit.  This is the magic of culture and chemistry and it is as important as anything to our success… we just sometimes forget how important it is and spend way too much time and energy focused on talent, action, statistics, and outcomes.

Here are a few things we can remember and that the Giants and Royals taught us about the importance of culture and chemistry:

1) Appreciate what you are doing – Having fun is essential, even when we are faced with stressful or difficult tasks.  While baseball is a game, at the professional level and especially in the World Series, it is a HUGE deal.  There is a lot at stake on many levels for both teams, all the players, and everyone involved.  If you watched any of the World Series, you could see that these guys were having fun and appreciating what they were doing, in the midst of the tension.  Before he came to bat for the first time in game 7 of the World Series, the Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval smiled and winked at the camera, looking as though he didn’t have a care in the world.  He ended up getting three hits and was on base all four times during the game.

2)  Leave it all on the field – I remember my pitching coach Dean Stotz at Stanford saying to us, “Men, in baseball and in life, there are really only two things you can control, your attitude and your effort.  Everything else is out of your control.”  We spend a lot of time and energy focused on and worried about things that are out of our control.  However, showing up and playing whatever game we are playing with passion and, as we say in baseball, “leaving it all on the field,” are essential to creating a winning culture and the chemistry it takes to be a champion.  At the end of the final game of the World Series, you could see how exhausted both teams were, even though they were still playing with as much passion as possible.  They had truly left it all out on the field and it was a beautiful thing to see.

3)  Love your teammates – This may be the most important element of all… love your teammates.  Last year when the Giants all-star right fielder Hunter Pence gave a speech at AT&T Park after receiving an award, he said about his teammates, “I love every minute of playing with you guys.  I know some of you don’t like it when I say ‘I love you,’ you think it’s soft… but I think it’s the strongest thing we’ve got.”  He’s right – love is the most powerful force in the universe and the most important ingredient to culture, chemistry, and success.

After the final out of the World Series, the Giants’ catcher Buster Posey, who is their best overall player (although he struggled in this World Series in terms of results), and their pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who had just completed one of the greatest performances in World Series history, embraced in the middle of the field.  It was beautiful to see.  Both of these young men (Posey is 27 and Bumgarner is 25) have played together since they were in the minor leagues and have been key contributors on all three of the Giants’ World Series winning teams.  But, in that moment, it wasn’t about their statistics, their contracts, or even their results (although they were celebrating the ultimate results… winning the World Series), it was about their relationship and connection to each other, their team, and the entire fan base of the San Francisco Giants.  And, if you looked closely you could see Bumgarner say to Posey in his ear, “I love you, man!”  To me, it was the best highlight of the night and it epitomized not only the amazing culture and chemistry of the San Francisco Giants, but what it takes to be a true championship team!

Where in your life are you focused more on talent, action, and results than culture and chemistry?  What can you do to put more attention on culture and chemistry in a way that can benefit you and those around you?  Leave a comment here on my blog about this.

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Be Kind To Yourself

January 23, 2014

Being kind to ourselves is one of many things in life that is simple, but not always so easy.  I posted a quote on Facebook last week from Brené Brown along these lines, “Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love,” which got a lot of response.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this important topic for many years, especially in the past few months.  And while I understand the importance and value of being kind toward myself, it isn’t always easy to practice.  However, when we are kind to ourselves, it has a positive impact on every aspect of our lives and on everyone around us.

Check out the video below where I talk about how we can be more kind toward ourselves.  Feel free to leave a comment about how this relates to you and what you do to practice self-kindness (or any questions you have) here on my blog.

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Self Improvement vs. Self Acceptance

Close-up of red blood cells and germsMarch 28, 2013

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

I had the honor of meeting author Robert Holden recently when we both spoke at the Hay House IGNITE event in San Jose, CA (which was an amazing experience, by the way).  Robert is someone whom I’ve admired for quite some time.  It was wonderful to get a chance to meet him in person and hear him speak live.  In his talk, he said “There’s no amount of self improvement that can make up for a lack of self acceptance.”

This statement really struck me and as I started to think about it more, I realized that so much of my life and my work is focused on self improvement.  And while there’s nothing wrong with me or any of us wanting to improve ourselves – too often we go about it erroneously thinking that if we “achieve” the “improvement” we’re after, we’ll then feel good about ourselves.  As Robert pointed out in his talk (and most of us have experienced this in our lives many times), it doesn’t work this way.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with self improvement.  We turn on the TV, look at magazines, take classes, read books, listen to others, surf the web and more – constantly getting various messages that if we just fixed, changed, and improved ourselves a bit, we’d be better off.  How often do you find yourself thinking some version of, “If I just lost a little weight, made a little more money, improved my health, had more inspiring work, lived in a nicer place, improved my relationships (or something else), then I’d be happy.”   Even though I “know better,” this type of thinking shows up inside my own head more often than I’d like.

The paradox of self improvement is that by accepting ourselves as we are, we give ourselves the space, permission, and opportunity to create an authentic sense of success and fulfillment.  When we insatiably focus on improving ourselves, thinking that it will ultimately lead us to a place of happiness, we’re almost always disappointed and we set up a stressful dynamic of constantly striving, but never quite getting there.

What if we gave ourselves permission to accept ourselves fully, right now?  While this is a simple concept, it’s one of the many things in life that’s easier said than done.  One of the biggest pieces of resistance we have regarding self acceptance is that we erroneously think that by accepting ourselves, we may somehow be giving up.  It’s as if we say to ourselves, “Okay, I’ll accept myself, once all of my problems and issues go away.”

Another reason we resist accepting ourselves is the notion that somehow acceptance is resignation.  It’s not.  Acceptance is acceptance – it’s about allowing things to be as they are, even if we don’t like them.  As Byron Katie says (and I often quote), “When you argue with reality you lose, but only 100% of the time.”

The paradox of self acceptance is that when we allow ourselves to accept who we are, where we are, what’s really happening, qualities about ourselves, aspects of who we are, and more – we actually set ourselves up and give ourselves the opportunity to make changes, improvements, and enhancements to ourselves and our lives in an authentic way.  When we obsess about and/or demand these improvements or changes “in order to” be happy, feel good about ourselves, or think we’re successful, it almost never works.

If you take a moment right now to think about some of the most important improvements and changes you’re attempting to make in your life, ask yourself this question, “What would it look like, feel like, and be like for me to fully accept myself in these important areas of my life?”

Most of the time it’s our own self criticism, perfection demands, and impatience that are actually getting in our way of making the changes, creating the success, and experiencing the fulfillment we truly want.  What if we changed our approach and with as much love, compassion, and vulnerability as possible, just accepted ourselves exactly as we are, right now!

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Love is the Answer

December 18, 2012

I have been reeling for the past few days, ever since the tragic events in Newtown, CT on Friday – such a sad and scary act of violence, hard to even comprehend.  It hits especially close to home for us, even though we’re 3,000 miles away, because our oldest daughter, Samantha, is in first grade, just like those twenty beautiful children who were killed on Friday.  Dropping Samantha and her little sister Rosie off at school yesterday morning was pretty emotional for me.  I looked at the shining faces of her first grade classmates and at the faces of the other parents, teachers, and staff members at our school, and couldn’t help but think of those people at Sandy Hook Elementary School – we are them, and they are us.

As I’ve been struggling to make sense of all of this (which I can’t), I find myself feeling somewhat similar to how I felt after 9/11.  In digging through some old emails, I found an email I sent out four days after 9/11 to my family and friends.  I didn’t have a blog back then or an email newsletter, I’m not sure if I’d even written an article of any kind.  However, in reading this email from more than eleven years ago, I was struck by how similar my thoughts and feelings are four days after the tragedy that took place in Newtown, CT.  I thought I would share it here on my blog because it encompasses much of what I feel right now as well.

(Email sent to my friends and family on September 15, 2001):


I have had so many thoughts and feelings this past week, as I am sure we all have.  Everything from sadness, to rage, to fear, to denial, to helplessness and then back again.  I have found it very difficult to know what to do or how to feel.  I have watched hours of television coverage and listened to hundreds of people speak about what has happened and what needs to happen – it has been overwhelming and confusing to me.  I have also spent a great deal of time and energy talking to loved ones and friends as well as communicating with anyone and everyone I can by email.  I just feel like I want to reach out and touch everyone I know and love… and even those I have never met.  This whole thing has been a major wake up call for me as to what is really important.  So much of what I think about, worry about, and talk about much of the time seems quite meaningless in the face of this tragedy.

What keeps showing up in my head, in my heart, in conversations with other people, in amazing emails from friends as well as those from powerful spiritual leaders is the power of LOVE and the importance of GOD.  When it all comes down to it, that is what is truly most important to me and in life!

In the face of this horrible tragedy, we have an amazing opportunity to bring forth the power of Love and God – to tell the people that we love how important they are to us and to connect with that deep and sacred place of our own personal spiritual journey.

I think it is so important that we honor our intense emotions and truly feel them – and let others to do the same.  Even though this may be uncomfortable, especially with certain emotions – I know it is that way for me.  On the other side of all of our emotions is Love.  Love is the key to the kingdom.  Love gives us access to healing, to forgiveness, and to peace.  Love is the basis of all of our connections to one another.  And Love is the foundation of our relationship to God.

I believe that the essence of each of us is Love.  It is who we are and what we all want.  We each have an infinite amount of Love.  I have been so inspired and amazed by the incredible outpouring of love I have seen throughout our country and our world in response to this crisis.  Standing hand in hand with strangers at Glide Memorial Church and at Grace Cathedral  in San Francisco this week, I wept at the Love I felt (from and for people I didn’t even know) and at the extraordinary power of the human spirit.

This email is an expression of my love for you, your family and friends, and for the world.  Here is my prayer:

Dear God:

We pray for courage and strength as we all deal with this crisis. 

Allow us to be real and open in the face of such intense sadness and fear. 

Please bring peace and healing to all those who have been hurt, directly or indirectly, by this tragedy.

May we unite together in Love to heal ourselves, each other, and our world.

Let Peace, Forgiveness, Healing, and Love prevail.


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Your Feelings Matter

June 28, 2012

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

I sometimes find it challenging to honor my own feelings – especially if what I want or feel seems to be at odds with other people, or my emotions don’t seem to be “appropriate” to the situation.  While I’m not someone who tends to hold back sharing my honest opinions, desires, and feelings and, over the years, I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback from people close to me about talking too much, dominating situations or conversations, and being selfish – underneath all of this is a deep fear that my feelings and desires aren’t as important as other people’s.

It has been humbling to come to this realization about myself recently.  However, it has also been incredibly liberating to see this pattern and to ask myself the question, “What would it be like to honor my real feelings and to live my life knowing that what I want and feel is just as important as anyone else?”

Honoring our feelings isn’t about being self absorbed, arrogant, or better than anyone – it’s really about being true to ourselves, honest with how we feel and what we want, and willing to engage in authentic conversations with other people – even, and especially, when we don’t feel or want the same things that they do.

So why can it be so challenging for us to honor our own feelings?  Some of the primary reasons for this are:

  • We worry that people won’t like or approve of us
  • We don’t value ourselves in an authentic way (i.e. we think we’re not good enough)
  • We’ve been taught to put other people’s needs, desires, and feelings ahead of our own
  • We’re not comfortable feeling and expressing certain emotions
  • We don’t think we “deserve” to have what we want (i.e. we think we’re not important enough)
  • We haven’t been taught healthy ways to honor our feelings
  • We worry that we’ll be seen as selfish

These and other things get in the way of truly honoring what we feel and what we want in life.  Sadly, by not honoring our feelings we both discount ourselves in a painful, and ultimately damaging way, and we create separation between us and other people, often the most important people in our lives.

Here are a few things you can do to enhance your capacity to honor your own feelings:

  • Be Real About How You Truly Feel – The first step of any process is always about being real, first and foremost with ourselves.  Even if we feel unclear or uncomfortable with a specific situation or certain set of emotions or desires, the more willing we are to be real about what we truly feel and want, the more ability we’ll have to honor ourselves and be authentic with others.  Making it a practice of getting in touch with our true feelings is essential.  A great way to do this is through journaling. It’s not about justifying how we feel to anyone else, it’s about being honest with ourselves.
  • Stop Judging Yourself – One of the biggest things that can get in our way in life, in general and specifically when it comes to feeling our feelings and expressing our desires, is self judgment.  We think to ourselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” or “If I share this, they will think I’m a terrible person.”  We use these self critical thoughts to suppress our true feelings, which can have significantly negative consequences on us and others. What if we just allowed ourselves to be real and to honor what’s true for us in the moment, without judging it?
  • Give Yourself Permission to Feel – Because of our self judgment, we sometimes don’t give ourselves permission to feel… especially certain emotions.  As human beings we tend to have a hierarchy of emotions – liking the “good” ones (love, joy, gratitude, peace, etc) and not liking the “bad” ones (anger, fear, hurt, powerlessness, etc).  However, at the deepest level, all human emotions have value and can benefit us if we’re willing to feel them in an authentic and healthy way.  Giving ourselves permission to feel what we’re feeling is critical to our ability to honor and move through our emotions in a way that serves us, our relationships, and our life.
  • Let Go of Your “Story” – Many of us, myself included, are attached to our “story.”  We love all of the drama and all of the details that make up the relationships, situations, and circumstances in our lives (both past and present).  While our life story, as well as the details of specific relationships and circumstances in our lives, is important at some level, too often we get caught in the story and all the drama, which actually takes us out of our emotional experience.  Where we have real power is in feeling our feelings, not talking about them, rationalizing them, or explaining them – but in simply feeling them.  Human emotions are not sustainable – especially if they are authentically felt.  It only takes about a minute or two to genuinely feel and move through an emotion.  However, when we attach an emotion to a story, we don’t allow ourselves to truly feel it and thus can keep it stuck in place.
  • Get Emotional Support – As important as our emotions are to our lives, our well being, and our relationships, sadly we don’t get a lot of emotional training in life (through school, at work, and in general) and we don’t often have built in, healthy emotional support mechanisms in our daily lives.  We live in a world that is primarily focused on action, results, and appearances – none of which has anything to do with our emotional experience (even though our emotional experience is not only one of the most important aspects of our lives, but is what drives much of what we do and produce in life).  There are, however, many ways we can find or enhance our emotional support.  Most of us have certain emotional support structures in our lives that we’ve set up for ourselves, consciously or unconsciously.  The key is for us to utilize these in a consistent and authentic way, as well as to make sure they are empowering us to honor ourselves and our emotional experience in life.

Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more.

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Just Because You’re You

April 12, 2012

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

About a year or so ago I started playing a game with my two girls, Samantha (our six year old) and Rosie (our three and a half year old). The game goes like this; I ask each one of them, “How much does daddy love you?” They respond by putting one or both of their arms up into the air as high as they can and say, “This much.” Then I say, “That’s right! And how come I love you so much?” To which they say, “Just because I’m me!”

It’s a fun, sweet, and powerful game that I love playing with each of them and something I hope to continue to do for many years. I play this game as much for them as I do for myself. For the girls, I want them to know that my love and appreciation for them is not based on what they do, how they look, how well they listen, or any other conditions or expectations.

For me, I do it for two main reasons. First of all, as a father I find it challenging at times to keep my heart open and to stay connected to my love for my girls when they do or say things that upset, disappoint, or anger me. This game serves as a reminder to me that my intention is to love them unconditionally (i.e. to love them even when I don’t like them or approve of what they do). On another level, by playing this game with my girls, I feel like I’m healing something deep within me that I’ve carried around for most of my life – the belief that my value as a human being is based on certain conditional, material, or external factors (accomplishments, appearance, approval of others, status, money, outward “success,” etc.)

How about you? How much of your own worth do you place in the hands of other people’s opinions, material success, or other outside factors or influences? If you’re anything like me and many of the people I know and work with, probably quite a bit (or at least more than is probably healthy or ideal).

This belief that many of us carry that we have to do specific things, produce certain results, look a particular way (and so on), in order to be acceptable, valuable, and lovable, causes a great deal of stress, pressure, and suffering in our lives.

From a very early age most of us have been doing whatever we can (in various ways based on our personality, background, and orientation) to gain approval and love from those around us. It starts with our parents, siblings, and family members when we’re very young. As children and adolescents, it extends out to our teachers, coaches, and especially our friends. As we move into adulthood it continues to expand to include our colleagues, clients; anyone we deem “important” to our success in life.

While there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with our desire to have the respect, admiration, and appreciation of those around us or to accomplish our most important goals, we often give away our power, consciously or unconsciously, to the people, circumstances, and results (or lack thereof) in our lives.

What if we stopped doing this so much? Our true value has nothing to do with any of these external factors. At the deepest level, we’re valuable as human beings just because we’re us – not because of what we do, how we look, what people think of us, or what we produce or accomplish. What would your life look like if you got this, embodied it, and lived from this perspective?

How can you start loving, accepting, and appreciating yourself (i.e. getting your inherent value) just because you’re you? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more.

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The Power of Empathy

October 13, 2011

For this week’s audio podcast, click here.

I had a painful, but poignant phone conversation earlier this week with my wife Michelle.  She shared some challenges with me in a vulnerable and passionate way.  As I started to give her some of my “helpful advice” (as I often do – being a man, as well as an author, speaker, and coach, I’m fairly well trained at giving advice), she stopped me and said, “Can’t you just give me empathy for me?  That’s what I really need right now.  Once I feel your empathy, I can hear your feedback.”

Her comment stopped me in my tracks.  I got defensive and began to justify myself – arguing that I did, indeed, have a lot of empathy and that she should be more open to my feedback.  Needless to say, my defensiveness (and subsequent arrogance and self righteousness) didn’t help things, and the conversation got worse before it got better, which it eventually did.

Michelle’s feedback, however, registered with me at a very deep level.  Although I “understand” the importance of empathy, teach it to others through my work, and have the capacity to experience and express a great deal of empathy with people around me, it’s sometimes difficult for me to have empathy for the people closest to me, including myself, especially recently.  Maybe you can relate?

Empathy can be tricky, particularly when we have an emotional connection (or attachment) to the people or situation involved (which we almost always do).  It’s also challenging to feel empathy when we feel threatened, stressed, or emotionally triggered (all of which we can experience a lot, especially with those who mean the most to us).  And, empathy is sometimes misunderstood.

Empathy is NOT:

  • Sympathy
  • Pity
  • Agreement
  • Commiseration
  • Endorsement

Simply put, empathy is getting into another person’s world and connecting with them both emotionally and compassionately. We don’t have to agree with them or fully understand them to be able to empathize. We don’t even need to be able to relate to what they are experiencing specifically (although that can help).  We just need to be present, connect with them where they are, and acknowledge what they’re experiencing.  Empathy for ourselves, while different contextually, actually functions the exact same way, simply turned inward.

The problem is that we often allow our egos, opinions, and judgments to get in the way of our ability to experience and express empathy.  If I agree with someone completely, can totally relate to them, and see things exactly as they do, it’s quite easy for me to empathize with them.

However, if I don’t agree, can’t relate, have a very different take on the situation or actually think how they’re reacting to things is potentially harmful for them and others, it’s often very hard for me to be empathetic towards them and I also worry that my expression of empathy could come across as agreement or endorsement.

While it can be challenging, the power of empathy is essential to the health and success of our relationships and lives.  It is a key element to our own emotional intelligence and well being.  With the people closest to us, including ourselves, and the issues that mean the most to us, empathy is even more critical, but often more difficult for us to experience and express.

Here are a few things to remember and practice to enhance your capacity for empathy:

  • Ask yourself where empathy is missing. Take inventory of your life and relationships and notice where empathy may be wanted, needed, or simply missing.  As you identify situations, relationships, and personal matters that could use an increased amount of empathy, make a commitment to yourself to bring less judgment and more compassion to them.
  • Reach out to people in your life. As you identify specific situations and relationships where you could bring more empathy, reach out to the people involved and let them know.  There may be an apology to give, an acknowledgement to make, or simply an admission that you want to bring more empathy and compassion (and less judgment, advice, self righteousness, etc) to your relationship.  Start working to do that with the most important people in your life.
  • Ask how people are feeling and really listen to what they say. One of the best ways we can express empathy towards others is through our curiosity and listening. When people feel heard, seen, and emotionally understood, they often relax, open up, and feel supported. Asking people how they truly feel, what’s really going on in their world, AND listening to how they respond (without judgment) are some of the best things we can do to express our empathy for the people around us.

All of these things also hold true with regard to having empathy and compassion for ourselves, which is essential in this process.  Like most things in life, we can’t give away what we don’t already have ourselves.  Self empathy is the foundation.

Everyone on the planet, including us, is almost always doing the very best they can in each moment.  We’re all just dealing with the joy, pain, growth, challenge, and more of being human.  Remembering this allows us to cut ourselves and others some loving slack, and engage in life, in our relationships, and with ourselves with a deep sense of respect, reverence, and, ultimately, empathy.

Where in your life is empathy wanted, needed, or simply missing (with others and/or yourself)?  How can you start giving yourself and those around you more empathy in an authentic and generous way?  Share your ideas, commitments, thoughts, dreams, and more on my blog here. Share your ideas, commitments, thoughts, dreams, and more on my blog below.

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Will You Still Love Me If…

September 22, 2011

For this week’s audio podcast, click here.

Over the past few months I’ve been looking at the phenomenon of approval seeking that exists in my life and my relationships.  My mother’s death has brought up an intense mix of emotions and reflections.  Like most people, my mom was a fundamental source of love for me, especially early in my life.  As such, I learned various ways, from quite a young age, to gain her approval.  Although this evolved over time and I outgrew certain aspects of approval seeking from my mom specifically, I realize now that I was much more attached to her approval, even as an adult, than I thought I was.

The irony is that this had very little to do with my mother herself.  While she did have strong opinions, like most of us, and she and I dealt with our fair share of conflicts and challenges in our relationship, I never questioned her love, commitment, and loyalty to me.  Much of the “conditionality” in our relationship (i.e. me thinking I had to be a certain way to be loved and accepted) was self imposed.  As I’ve looked at this more deeply in the recent months, I realize this is also true in just about all of the relationships in my life – family, friends, clients, and more.

I read a great book a number of years ago written by my friend, mentor, and counselor of seventeen years, Chris Andersonn, called Will You Still Love Me if I Don’t Win? This book was written specifically for parents of young athletes, but has a much wider and broader message about both parenting and life – it’s really about how much pressure most of us feel as kids (and then throughout our lives) to perform for our parents and others.

This pressure to perform and to “live up to other people’s expectations” creates an enormous amount of stress in our lives.  Clearly there are healthy expectations and positive forms of accountability that benefit us (i.e. when people around us expect excellence, integrity, kindness, success, and more which can, in fact, influence us in a positive way). However, more often than not, we place a great deal of pressure on ourselves to act, look, and “perform” in specific ways that we believe we “have” to in order to receive the love, acceptance, and approval we want (or sometimes feel we need) from others.

Consciously or unconsciously we tend to ask ourselves questions like, “Will you still love me if…”

  • I tell you how I really feel
  • I gain weight or my physical appearance changes
  • I change jobs or careers
  • I don’t succeed or produce specific results
  • I disagree with you about important/sensitive stuff
  • I don’t live up to your standards/expectations
  • I want to alter or renegotiate the nature of our relationship

These and many other questions like them create an intense dynamic of pressure in our lives and relationships.  And in many cases, like I’ve recently realized with my mom, we create most of this pressure ourselves.  Often the place where unconditional love is lacking most significantly is within us. We have a tendency to be quite hard on ourselves and to have lots of conditions in place for our own approval. This demand for perfection is always a set up for a failure.

What if we let go of our conditions and just loved and accepted ourselves and others exactly the way we and they are right now? Acceptance isn’t about resignation, it’s about freedom, peace, and appreciation. When we practice unconditional love and acceptance it doesn’t mean that everything is “perfect” or that things can’t or won’t change in a positive way. However, love and acceptance are about appreciating the way things are and trusting that we and other people are “good enough”.

Seeking the approval of others is something most of us learn to do early in life and is actually a natural, normal, and healthy aspect of our growth as human beings.  However, as we evolve, seeking approval not only becomes problematic, but can be quite damaging if we don’t consciously pay attention to it and ultimately alter it.

Here are three things you can do to loosen the grip of approval seeking:

  • Notice – Pay attention to your approval seeking tendencies.  In what relationships and situations does this show up most often for you?  Like most things in life, change starts with awareness, so noticing when, how, and what specifically it is that you do or say (in your head or out loud) in terms of seeking approval is the first step.
  • Share – Talk about this with the specific people in your life it impacts the most – your significant other, your family, your friends, your co-workers, your boss, your clients, and more. Because much of this stuff is self imposed, when we start talking about it we often realize that we’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves, in many cases unnecessarily. In other cases there may be some unspoken dynamics in place that can be altered by having honest and vulnerable conversations. Either way, talking about it will almost always help alter things in a positive way.
  • Give To Yourself – Give yourself that which you are seeking, which in most cases is love and acceptance. The source of much of our pain and suffering, as well as our joy and happiness is us. So often we’re looking for others to give to us that which we need to give to ourselves. When we love and approve of ourselves, two important things happen. First of all, we become less needy of the approval of others. Second, because we are giving it to ourselves and aren’t as needy of it from others, we often get even more love and acceptance from those around us.

While this may seem simple and straight forward, it can be tricky for many of us as our patterns of approval seeking began before we had language and at a time in our lives that we can’t even access with conscious memory.  As we do this important internal work, it’s essential that we’re gentle, kind, and compassionate with ourselves.  And, when we remember that the love, acceptance, and approval we’re truly seeking is our own, we’re reminded that the answer is right inside of us, like it almost always is.

Where do you place conditions on your love and acceptance – for yourself and others?  How can you let go of these conditions and start accepting yourself and others exactly as you and they are, right now?  Share your ideas, commitments, thoughts, dreams, and more on my blog below.

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Focus on What Truly Matters

September 8, 2011

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

Over the past few months I’ve been thinking a lot about what truly matters.  My mom’s diagnosis, illness, and death have caused me to stop, question, and look more deeply at the things and people in my life that are important.  Through the pain and challenge of this experience, I’ve also been grateful for the perspective and awareness it has opened up.

What I’ve noticed is that, sadly, I don’t focus on what and who truly matters to me as much as I’d like.  I tend to get distracted by fears, ego-obsessions, drama (in my own life and in the world), ambitions, and all sorts of survival instincts and emotional reactions.  While I understand and have empathy for the fact that this is all part of being human, I also recognize that when I get distracted like this, I’m not able to fully engage in the most important activities, relationships, and situations in my life.  Maybe you can relate?

Why do we get so distracted in our lives?  Why does it sometimes take illness, crisis, injury, tragedy, or even death to wake us up and get our attention?

First of all, I think we clutter up our lives with too much “stuff.”  We’re too busy, over-committed, and information obsessed.  Our to-do lists are too long and we run around trying to “keep up” or be “important,” and in the process stress ourselves out to no end.  Even though many of us, myself included, often complain (out loud or just in our heads) that we can’t do anything about this – based on the nature of life today, technology and communication devices, and/or the responsibilities of our lives, families, and jobs – most of us have more of a say over our schedules, how much we engage in electronic communication, and the amount of “stuff” we clutter into our lives.  Much of this distracts us from what’s most important.

Second of all, it actually can be scary to focus on what truly matters.  Some of the most important people, activities, and aspects of our lives are things that may seem “unimportant” to those around us.  These things may or may not have anything to do with our careers, taking care of our families, and may not even be things that other people like, understand, or agree with.  Even if they are, sadly, it’s often easier to just watch TV, disengage, and merely react to what’s going on around us than it is to engage in the things we value most.

Finally, we may not know what’s most important to us or at least have some internal conflict about what “should” be.  Whether it’s our lack of clarity or it’s this phenomenon of “should-ing” all over ourselves (or maybe a bit of both), focusing on what truly matters to us can be more tricky than it seems on the surface.  With so many conflicting beliefs, ideas, and agendas (within us and around us), it’s not always easy to know with certainty what matters most to us.  And, even if we do, it can take a good deal courage, commitment, and perspective to live our life in alignment with this on a regular basis.

While these and other “reasons” make sense, not focusing on what matters most to us has a real (and often negative) impact on our life, our work, and everyone around us.  We end up living our life in a way that is out of integrity with who we really are, which causes stress, dissatisfaction, and missed opportunities and experiences.

What if we did focus on what truly matters in our life all the time – not simply because we experience a wakeup call, crisis, or major life change – but because we choose to in a pro-active way?  What would your life look like if you let go of some of your biggest distractions, the often meaningless worries and stresses that take your attention, and actually put more focus on the people and things that are most important to you?

Here’s an exercise you can do now (and any time in the future) to both take inventory of where you are in this process and also to get you more in alignment with what truly matters.

  • Make a list of the most important aspects of your life.  You can either write this list down on a piece of paper or in your journal (ideal) or simply make a mental list.  These “aspects” will vary depending on your life, interests, priorities, etc.  For most people, however, they tend to be things like family, personal/spiritual growth, health, career success/fulfillment, making a difference in the world, fun, money, friends/community, travel, adventure, creativity, home, and more.  While you don’t need to rank them necessarily, thinking of these things with some priority can be helpful.
  • Make a list of the things you spend most of your time doing and thinking about.  Take inventory of your day today (as well as the past few days, weeks, and months) and make a list (in writing or in your head) of where you spend your time and attention.  Tell the truth, even if you aren’t proud of some of the activities or thoughts that get a lot of your focus.  With this list it’s important to rank them in some way – so that you’re clear about which activities, thoughts, relationships, and more get your attention specifically, and how much you devote to each of them.
  • Compare the two lists and see how you can get them even more aligned. As you compare these two lists, if you’re anything like me – you may notice that they’re quite different.  Often what we say is most important to us isn’t the same as where we devote much of our time, energy, and thought.  Without judging yourself, tell the truth about where there are differences in these two lists and spend some time inquiring into why this is the case. And, as you think about this, ask yourself how you can create more alignment with these two lists. In other words, be more conscious and do whatever you can to focus more on what truly matters to you!

What matters most in your life?  Do you allow yourself to get distracted by things that aren’t that important?  How can you stay connected to the most important things in your life in a real way and on a regular basis?  Share your ideas, commitments, thoughts, dreams, and more on my blog below.

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