Book Group at the St. Louis Wellness Center beginning Monday March 17th from 7-8:30pm

Small group participants will read and discuss “The Pathway” – a New York Times bestselling book with the compelling tagline:

“Turn off the drive to over-eat, spend, over-work, smoke, drink too much, rescue others, put up walls, think too much, and people-please”

book club flyer

The program that evolved from this book was named “One of the top 10 medical advances of the year” by ‘Health Magazine’.

The book describes…

– How unhealthy habits really form,
– How excesses and overindulgence actually serve us,
– and how to make long-lasting change.

The group will meet on Monday evenings for 8 weeks. Call 314-518-5112 to register.

The power of our ‘autopilot’

I think all counselors and coaches might share a similar wish for the well-being of their clients: ‘Don’t underestimate the power of your auto-pilot’.

Learning to drive a manual-transmission car is the best metaphor I can think of to explain the relationship between the conscious and ‘auto-pilot’ parts of your mind.  Automatic transmissions may work just fine to translate your intended direction via the steering wheel, gas pedal and brakes. But people are often drawn to the manual transmission because it gives you a different level of control.

If you haven’t yet, coming to understand how to operate a manual transmission can be very eye-opening. You learn that an ‘automatic’ is actually directing many more functions than you had ever realized needed attention. “Decisions” about what gear to use, at what speed, and many others, are all conveniently made without us even being aware of them. But if the automatic transmission starts to have problems – slow acceleration, stalling, or abrupt speed changes – you have little recourse for control without “manual” options.

Whether it’s driving a manual or spending less time living on auto-pilot, the solution is all about increasing awareness of the mechanisms in play and improving your responsiveness to them.  Increasing your tangible knowledge can be a good first step.  But knowing and doing are two separate steps.   In the case of getting more control in your personal life, some find that they need “hands-on” help in coaching or counseling for the “doing” part of that equation.

The information in these columns is meant to build a foundation of understanding why we might find ourselves unhappy or scratching-our-heads about others’ or our own behavior.  Understanding all the mechanisms in play can help you see things more accurately. And that information can be enough to begin making changes.   But  in either scenario, the doing will be your own creation. As in my post on “Finding Yourself“, it’s very tempting to look outside of yourself for answers.  But the most vital information is already within you.

Neuroscience offers a very hopeful prospect for change

In my opinion, there is no one best counseling approach or technique. The most important distinction among all of them is the client’s comfort with and benefit from it.

But as a counselor supervisor, I have had the opportunity to follow-up with clients who were unhappy with their experience of counseling. The particulars took different forms, but in general, many of these clients felt that the counseling experience ‘meandered’ and they had wanted to feel clear about what their solution might be and how they could get there.  This is not to say that problems aren’t often complex and can be rushed to solution. Quite the opposite. The nuts and bolts of our most persistent habits in behavior, mood and relationships do not respond well to pressure. But advances in neuroscience have a great deal to offer clients who want that clear tangible plan for reaching the solution they desire.

What we know as our ‘mind’ and our ‘feelings’ are manifested by a physical organ – the brain. And until the phenomenon of neuroplasticity was understood just in the last decade, science and medicine had some pretty grim expectations about making any significant changes to the adult brain. Thankfully we now know that is not the case. With intentional practice and experience, you can change the physical structures (or ‘wires’) in your brain that determine your autopilot settings for all sorts of things. Why is that important? Because most of us have autopilot settings that can lock-in negative moods or destructive behaviors without our awareness. So being able to change the wires means we can make some pretty dramatic changes in our overall happiness, fulfillment and health.

I provide clients with a set of tools that uses the opportunity of neuroplasticity to revise some of those ‘wires’ that can make moods, relationship patterns, addictions & habits of eating so difficult to overcome. The scientific vocabulary can sound complex, but the tools themselves are simple and elegant. I have seen them make tremendous impact not only in the lives of my clients, but in my own life as well. And I would love to share them with you. To learn more about my counseling and coaching services, please call 314-518-5112.

Grateful to be back in St. Louis

I am very happy to report that I am back to the St. Louis area and am offering counseling and coaching services at the St. Louis Wellness Center. I will begin more regular topical posts in the next few weeks and look forward to your comments.

Warmest wishes for the New Year!

How do you feel?

How rich is your ‘feeling life? If you ask yourself  ‘how do I feel right now?’ – is there a ready answer?

Very often, to be ‘successful’ in our society, we must pump up our thinking abilities.  Many of us lead very rich ‘thinking’ lives and we certainly benefit in practical ways because  of it.  We must be able to problem solve and analyze and wordsmith.  So if you are a skilled thinker, it can be easy to start using thought as your primary tool for interacting with the world.   But we have an opportunity to live in two dimensions – to think and feel.   And leading a rich, yet balanced, thinking and feeling life is actually essential to good health – both mental and physical.

In all the hours I’ve spent with clients,  the most common phenomena I see is a kind of ‘depression’.  The pop- psychology meaning of  that word is something close to feeling ‘numb’.  I could go on with the literal definition and talk about the diagnostic criteria for major depression. But in practice, I’ve found that those components often do little to imply the urgency that leading a ‘numb’ life should.

Emotions point to a truth.  In general, changes in emotion are the natural and healthy catalysts for action. Ideally we use the information they provide to motivate us to meet important needs.  But as humans have evolved in our thinking capacity, we have developed a possibly dangerous capacity to ignore our ‘feelings as they happen’.  As we become a more intelligent and principled society, implications of what we should feel and should prioritize are being adopted as truth (by the thinking mind at least).  From a high-minded and theoretical perspective this can be a good thing.  But as always, the devil is in the details.  The importance of balancing authentic emotional experience with thinking is absolutely vital for true happiness and health.

This is such an important context for every part of our daily lives. When our thinking and feeling capacities are out of balance, it is one of the most difficult things to address with clients.  Things get tricky when we’ve trained ourselves (with the help of some families and society) to distract attention from unpleasant realities, internal or external.

Why wouldn’t we want to be able to disconnect from unpleasant experiences? Who wants pain?  This is very natural.  But too much disconnection over time can begin to dampen your emotional senses across the board.  This is often how non-organically based depression begins.  Maybe you’ve learned to ‘stop letting things get to you.’  Typically this figure of speech implies not letting the ‘bad’ things get to you.  But the generality of the literal statement is ironically accurate.  As I’ve said in other posts – there is a symmetry to our perceptual abilities.  If we cap pain – then we cap joy.

So what do we do?  Ideally if you would describe the majority of your feeling states as ‘numb’ – I would encourage you to try coaching or therapy.  But as the title of this blog implies, many people have real hesitancy when it comes to sitting in a room with someone talking about feelings.  The irony is that the people most averse to discussing feelings are probably best poised to benefit from doing just that.

The good news is that plenty of non-therapy options exist to begin working toward a richer ‘feeling’ life.  Just checking in with yourself can be a start.  I often suggest that clients take a moment to ask themselves how they feel before each meal time.  And any non-thinking method you can find to express yourself is often a good way to access ‘off the radar’ feelings through the ‘back door.’  Things like music, drawing, working with your hands or physical sports are all ways to give the thinking a break and rebuild connection with the rest of who you are.

Mindfulness activities such as yoga or meditation are also becoming much more mainstream this days.  Again, overthinkers will have a hard time seeing the value of ‘not thinking’.  But the answer any of these suggestions provides is not to stop thinking – it’s to start feeling – more regularly and more ‘real time’.  When we have a regular connection to the emotion of each given moment – then we don’t ‘save up’ toxic emotions for other unrelated situations and we feel joy that we may have otherwise missed.