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Hanging Tough in Turbulent Times

I don’t know about you…but I’ve been reeling with all the turmoil in the world lately. Sitting here in the “relative” calm of New York City, sometimes it feels like the world is falling apart all around me.

Are you hanging on? Or hanging tough?

Look east and nature is wreaking havoc on our friends in Japan. Look west and a psychotic dictator is tearing apart the fabric–and the humanity–of his own country in Libya. Not to mention that the so-called “economic recovery” here in the U.S. feels anemic at best and the slumbering bear of recession seems endlessly poised to reemerge from his winter hibernation!

That’s why it was so inspiring to hear about a great new book that just hit the shelves this week: ” Emotional Balance: The Path to Inner Peace and Harmony” by Dr Roy Martina. Dr Roy joined me on my radio show, “Life Shifting with Dr J” and shared some of his powerful insights from the book. The key theme of which is thus: how to find–and maintain–emotional balance in the midst of life’s inevitable ups and downs. How timely is that!

There are many important and ground-breaking principles in Dr Roy’s work, which beautifully aligns with the themes of my book, “SHIFT: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear“. I love the synchronicity of how his work, which emanates from his many years of practice as a holistic medical doctor, dovetails perfectly with my work, which hails from my experience and research in psychology. So cool to see the bio-medical and psycho-spiritual worlds not just collide but INTERSECT and interweave — with far more alignment than discord.

At its core, Dr Roy’s work is all about helping readers find what he calls the “Still Point”–that place of aligned, centered presence, where we are re-connected with our divine essence — and the fears, at least the ones that cause us recurring anxiety and stress, are recognized as the result of the way our brains develop leaving us “conditioned towards stress”. But the good news is that leading edge work in neuroscience has proven that our brains, as well as emotional and nervous systems, are highly malleable and adaptable. In sum, we are powerful weavers of our own stories, and can discard the narrative of fear, insecurity, scarcity and separation at will (with the help of some focused, intentional practice). His book gives us the tools we need to do just that–offering us a “way out” of anxiety, stress and depression, and a pathway to restoring our emotional balance. In essence: a road map for finding our way home to ourselves.

I hope you’ll give our chat a listen–just click here to get the download for free. It was a joy to speak with Dr Roy while he is on his book tour all around the world (he called me from Amsterdam at midnight!)…I came away re-invigorated, empowered and less vulnerable to the onslaught of the outer world turmoil that sometimes feels omnipresent. I also feel most heartened by the way that the disparate worlds of psychology, spirituality and modern medicine are FINALLY integrating and moving towards a unified approach to health and healing. There is a piercing LIGHT of hope on the horizon!

Namaste,

Dr J

Are you a “Conscious Marketer?”

Ever been to a networking event and have someone hand you a business card, tell you their name, and ask if they can “give you call”? Well, I have. Too many times. Sometimes I feel like people

Is this your networking dance?

attend these events with a stack of cards in hand, their only goal for the evening is to see how many cards they can give out…and snatch up from others.

What about having a REAL conversation? Maybe you only get to talk to one or two or three people during an entire evening, but you take the time to ask questions, learn about the person…to spend more time listening than talking? Have we lost the art of CONNECTION?

If you are in the “networking” or “sales” or “brand-building” mode…out there schmoozing and trying to find a job, sell your services or build a business…then you must, simply MUST, listen in to my recent radio show with guest Lynn Serafinn, conscious marketing expert and author of, “The Garden of the Soul: Lessons of Four Flowers that Unearth the Self.” Lynn is a book promoter, classical musician, and author of the up-coming book: “The Seven Graces of Marketing: How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell”.”

Lynn and I had a deep, rich and provocative conversation about a topic near and dear to my heart: how to SHIFT from a “transaction-oriented” approach to marketing to a “relationship-oriented” approach. Click here to listen or download to Itunes/Mp3.

And so you ask, what is the difference?

Well, to my mind…and Lynn seemed to echo my sentiments, the key difference between today’s tendency towards quantity and transaction-based connections (e.g. how many friends you have on Facebook fddoes NOT by itself, imply lots of sales of ANYTHING!) is whether you enter the connection point from FEAR…or LOVE. What? No, really.

Here’s the thing: we all feel anxious and nervous about meeting new people, or reaching out BEYOND OUR COMPUTER to connect with others. But when we enter that sacred moment of connection, reaching out our hand and saying “hello”…far too often that anxiety (e.g. fear or the unknown “other”) takes over, our breath gets shallow, we feel a knot in our stomach…and we slip into “robot” mode: “Hi, how are you? What do you do? Here’s my card…etc.”

The goal of the fearful ego is to GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE…and as soon as possible get back safely ensconced behind the cheese plate or better yet, the computer screen. This is the sort of anxiety/fear-based dynamic that tends to pervade the typical cocktail party or networking event. Everyone is smiling… NO ONE is really having a good time. BUT, it doesn’t have to be that way…

Crossing the bridge of connection

Love-based connections, or what I prefer to call “conscious connection,” starts from a different place. We take a few deep breaths; we feel our anxiety and accept it as natural (our silly ego attempting to protect us), and then we step into the moment of connection with ANTICIPATION, the energy of curiosity…deeply interested to KNOW this other being that I am blessed to meet at this moment in time.

We might say, as always, “hello, I am so and so…but then…WHO are you? What brought you to this event? What are you hoping to learn? What is the challenge you are struggling with in YOUR business? How might I help? How might we help each other? Etc…” Many minutes will go by…you might only get to hand out a few business cards. Yet, something else will very likely occur: you will relax. You will soften in your body and feel empathy instead of anxiety. After all, we are all in this swirl of life TOGETHER. We are all, ultimately, looking for the same thing: to be heard, to connect, to feel loved…to belong.

By entering into a networking opportunity with a LOVING heartset instead of a fearful mindset, something wonderful, precious, sacred, and key to the success of every business might just occur: you make a friend, find a partner, a customer, or a referral to someone who can help you land a job or build your business. You might have find someone you can help out as well. And a real, powerful connection is born.

We are all connected

Lynn and I talked for an hour…and it felt like five minutes. She told me her wonderful story–the amazing journey of how she parlayed a music career into a spiritual journey to the far-flung wilds of India and on to a marketing career–but most importantly, she shared with me why she is so passionate about helping people SHIFT the way they promote their books, their brands, and their businesses.

She is calling for a wholesale REINVENTION of the way we do business, away from the old paradigm of fear-based, scarcity-based, competition, towards a space of gratitude, abundance, and deep connection. It is all about remembering a deep truth, one which we all know in our hearts but so quickly forget when the pressure to sell, pay the bills, get known, be “out there”…takes over: we are all connected. We are all longing to belong. I was moved by her passion, her spirit…and her dream…as I hold the same one, for my clients…and for the world.

SO…if you are out there on the entrepreneurial, job-hunting, or life-reinventing circuit, doing the networking, Facebook-ing, tweeting thing…listen in to Lynn and try to be more CONSCIOUS and thoughtful when approaching that “unknown other”. Don’t get caught falling down the rabbit hole fantasy that “its all about the numbers”. It ain’t true. The sales pitch (I know, I know you’re supposed to have the 30 second elevator pitch…oy!) might bring you a bit of business

How many "clicks" will pay the rent?

— but surely, in the long run, it won’t feel satisfying and it won’t be sustainable. What does last…is becoming part of a community of REAL people…forging and nourishing those LOVING spaces where people come together…to live, learn and support each others dreams.

I hope you’ll listen in and let me know what you think. I’m all ears!

Dr j

Dancing on the High Wire of Life

Howdy all,

Time for a re-cap of my fabulous radio interview with Gabriele Ganswindt this past Monday on Life Shifting with Dr J. Such a cool conversation! Gabriele, psychologist and executive coach extraordinaire, is an expert on two of my favorite “Life-Shifting” themes: finding balance…and building resiliency in challenging times! A most timely topic no? You can listen to the full interview or download to Itunes/podcast with this link: http://www.transformationtalkradio.com/meet_shows.php?id=3991#

So here is your key question: HOW DO WE DO IT?

What to do?

How do we stay grounded, flexible and adaptable in the midst of what may feel like an “out-of-control” world?

A tough question, needless to say, but Gabriele says, “Don’t despair! There ARE practices and ways of being/thinking that can truly help us stay “on track” and centered, even in the midst of chaos.”

Gabriele knows of what she speaks: She is a successful business owner, a mother to two young children, a homemaker, a philanthropist, a writer, an ordained interfaith minister, an organization development consultant and life coach…and a survivor of a life-threatening illness. Continue reading

Are We Hard-Wired to Suffer?

Howdy all…in case you missed my new article on Huffington Post…here it is in its entirety. Seems to have generated some buzz on the wire…what do you think? Please weigh in here or go HuffingtonPost.com. I’m very interested in where my readers come out on the causal scale– nature/environment/culture?

Yesterday I had one of those classic moments with a client that never fail to bring the conversation to a stand still. He was sharing with me his tendency to, as he put it, “always feel anxious and worried about everything.” At one point, with a shrug, he simply declared, “I’m just hard-wired to be anxious. I’ve always been this way.”

Really? Hard-wired to be anxious, worried and stressed-out? Not.

Have you looked at a baby lately? Or hung out with small children who are living in a secure home with at least one loving parent? In general, well-fed kids (poverty is another thing entirely) are relaxed, spontaneous, playful and full of life a good deal of the time. Since when did it become in vogue to blame our adult anxieties on so-called “hard-wiring?” What does “hard-wiring” mean anyway?

In the 19th century, before Freud, most psychological maladies, lumped under the heading “hysteria,” were thought to be nervous disorders caused by bacteria. Patients were often quarantined, subjected to leeches, or sent away for a “cleanse.”

In the endless nature versus nurture debate over the source of our pain, nature, circa 2010, has taken the lead. We are culturally awash, once again, in a bio-chemical, reductionist moment. Peering into the recesses of the brain more deeply than ever before, we latch on to the work of electrolytes, neuro-peptides and synapses, hoping to root out those dastardly chemicals that bring on our suffering. With this narrative in vogue, we take umbrage in labeling our issues, challenges and deficits “hard-wired” — hence, unchangeable.

Ironically, it is science itself which may restore some equilibrium to this conundrum, for scientists have a wonderful habit of de-bunking their own theories. Today, neuroscientists are re-discovering what Freud, even with his limited purview on the human mind, understood implicitly in his early forays into developmental psychology: The brain itself, the supposed home front of “hard-wiring,” is malleable, adaptable and constantly renewing itself.

Brain scientists are beginning to understand that the biochemistry and neuronal network that under girds the structure of the brain is constantly re-organizing and adapting to changes in the outer world. New research bringing together the best of neuroscience and psychiatry, such as detailed in The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doige, MD. calls into question the notion that the “wiring” in our brains is “hard” in any way, shape or form.

So if the latest research is accurate, and our brains ARE adaptable and changeable, what are we to do about this tendency to default to the “hard-wiring” narrative?

In the research I conducted over a 10-year period for my new book, Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear, what I came to see repeatedly in my clients (and I might add, in my own life!) is that these default narratives, especially when spoken in the context of anxiety, stress and worry, point, not to chemical dysfunction, but to our addiction to comfort, our antipathy towards change (in a nation born of revolution) and our bifurcated relationship with FEAR. In a culture addicted to “happiness” (but that rushes out en mass to delight in big screen terror of vampires), we have forgotten, or at least dismissed, the truth that fear, especially when change is in the works, is perfectly normal — maybe even healthy.

In other words, when you find yourself defaulting to the story, “I’m hard-wired to be ______”, (e.g. anxious, stressed, worried, fill-in-the blank with your favorite), it usually means that some aspect of your life is ready to shift, ready to release, ready to be, in fact, renewed. BUT, because change is uncomfortable even for the most adaptable of us, our egos will hook into whatever cultural narrative is in vogue to hold us “in check” — in an effort to protect us. But from what? It seems we would rather languish in depression or wallow in worry instead of simply acknowledging our fear of the unknown, breathing deeply and stepping into the flow of life… and changing.

So the next time you find yourself feeling anxious and you begin to ask if perchance you’re “hard-wired” for misery, try asking yourself some different questions:

What pattern might I be stuck in–at work, in my relationships, in my life?

What change might be afoot that I’m resisting?

Is it possible that my life might be BETTER if I relaxed, just a bit, and allowed the change to unfold?

In the case of my client, when he stepped back, took a deep breath, and contemplated what possible change might be in the works, he realized that he was frustrated with his job, bored with his living situation and dissatisfied with many aspects of his life. He actually desires change but fears it.

There is another narrative available to him, of course, a story of new beginnings and unexplored territories, which could be fueled, not by the energy of anxiety, but excitement, even enthusiasm. But in order to shift gears, he will have to give up his story that he is “hard-wired” for worry. Instead, with an awakened awareness that change is inevitable, and a willingness to release that which no longer serves him, he might just re-wire his way into of a new way of being…creating whole new vistas of possibility.

So check your wiring…and don’t be afraid to blow a few circuits now and again…you may just re-wire the system… and light up your life!

Dr J

Releasing that S.O.B. called J.O.B.

A recent article in the NY Times called attention to a huge paradigm SHIFT that I’ve been noticing for a few years now: The “JOB” as we know it is on its way out! Like a wave that is building…getting ready to make land fall and wash away a cultural icon, the linear, full-time, boxed in life mode called “having a JOB” seems to be dying out. The article pointed out how millions of people coming out of the recession are making a conscious decision NOT to look for a job — but to craft a life built around consulting assignments, part-time work, and freelancing gigs. Welcome to the brave post-JOB world, where we are ALL called to be entrepreneurs and to create businesses, to craft work/life-styles that mine the talents, visions and passions that make us unique…and to bring those forth. In a word, welcome to the “portfolio” world!

Of course, we all know how painful it can be to lose one’s job, to be laid off, or re-engineered out of a corporate gig that we thought was a “secure” position. Losing a job can wreak havoc on our finances, our families, and our sense of security, but sometimes equally important is what it does to our sense of identity, raising the inevitable question: Without this JOB, who am I?

It may sound rather fantastical or unrealistic to speak this way, yet we are so quick to forget that the “full-time” job, and picture we have of work life made up of 60 hour weeks with a couple of weeks break in the summer or at holiday time if we are lucky, is relatively new on the cultural scene. The work world that we consider “normal” actually grew out of the Industrial Revolution–a time when factories arose to replace farms and people became cogs in the new machine of productivity. The “job” –as an arduous, exhausting, all-consuming, clamor up the rungs of a corporate ladder or scramble to get off the factory floor–is not etched in our DNA!

That said, writing as one who has felt the sting of unemployment myself over the years, I don’t want to be cavalier about this transition. It is a big SHIFT in our culture…and in our lives. BUT, and this is a big BUT, there is a true silver lining here, if we choose to see it that way. By letting go of the cultural fantasy that life is a straight line trip up the job/career ladder to nirvana (or golfing by the sea shore), we can reframe the change and see through to an opportunity to reinvent our relationship with WORK. We can begin to create new ways of being in the world that not only pay the bills, but nurture and nourish our creative spirits…and keep our soul’s alive.

So, if you’ve recently lost your job or are just wondering if it is time to step off the corporate ladder and try to fly solo or create a business, non-profit, or other way of working that might better aligned with your soul’s desire, here’s what I consider to be the 3 key steps for making the SHIFT (oh, and read my new book SHIFT too…where you’ll find a whole host of tools and practices to support your transformation:

Your Workbook for Life-Shifting!

1. Release: Letting go–or “being let go” (if the rug-pulling comes from outside your control, as is often the case) can be emotionally devastating to our egos. Grieving the loss, of a job, of an identity, of who we thought we were…takes time. Don’t criticize yourself for feeling a sense of loss, or sadness, just let the feelings come up and flow through you. Exercise, eat well, sleep a lot, if necessary, and be sure to share your true feelings with a loving companion, therapist or coach. Grieving is part of the process of letting go–it doesn’t take forever but it does need to be honored.

Try not to be freaked out by the symptoms of change. Anxiety, stress, worry, lethargy, boredom, mild depression are all naturally occurring symptoms when we are feeling stuck, in a RUT, or experience a rupture in our lives. They, and you, are NORMAL! Our protective egos will try desperately to “rev us up” (anxiety) or shut us down (boredom/depression), as a way to protect us from CHANGE.

Vent...breathe...vent some more...breathe...and...release!


We are bombarded with advertisements and self-help books all wanting to help us alleviate the symptoms and get back on that treadmill. It is ok to want to feel better–but don’t miss the forest by getting caught up in the trees. Sometimes symptoms of FEAR (which most of these are!) are a gift in disguise, calling us forth to do the inner work of re-inventing our relationships, our careers, jettisoning our small view of ourselves as “nine-to-five-ers” or just good enough to hold on to that S.O.B. of a job.

2. Reframe: Step back, take a deep breath, and look for the gift, the opportunity, and the possibilities that are all around you, even in the wake of a major job loss. Do a lot of journaling–about your passions, your gifts, your dreams. Put together a list of what you KNOW YOU ARE GOOD AT…and ask everyone you trust and love what gifts they think you bring to the world. Letting go of the victim energy and going inside ourselves to re-connect with the “through-line” of our passions, our talents and our capabilities is the crucial transitional shift required to begin again.

Embrace your ever-present inner beginner!


3. Re-invent: Create a vision–not a specific goal, but a picture/fantasy–of how you’d like to be living and what work you see yourself doing a year from now…and five years from now. Write a mission statement and create a “vision board”–a collage–that operates as a billboard for the new brand you are crafting in the world. As Tom Peters would say: the advert for YOU, INC.

Then start reaching out to people and offering to help, to serve and provide your talents/capabilities to the world. Don’t “network” in the outmoded ways (collecting business cards: NOT!), but connect with like-minded people, build relationships with key people who you admire, who are doing work in the world that is aligned with your passions and your new ways of seeing yourself. Remember: one deep, abiding relationship is all it takes to link you to the next great adventure in the work of your life. Networking is not about quantity…but quality!

the cirle of giving...always gives back!


Create a whole surfeit of resumes, websites, and FB pages that proclaim your gifts…and, finally, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to GIVE AWAY your time, your energy and your efforts to those who need your help. Giving of yourself, in the areas aligned with your passions/talents is the surest way to have the universe return the favor–in the guise of paid gigs, consulting/p-t work…and very likely, (God forbid) that old stand-by, another J.O.B.

We live in a time of great upheaval–where SHIFTS have become the norm…and the full-time j.o.b. seems to be disappearing. But, deep down, I believe this is all good news: a new day is also dawning (a key theme in my new book: ENDINGS always segue into BEGINNINGS!) when the idea of a “job” is being replaced with something new, something better, something more connected to who we are as humans: the integration of work, passion and play. Can you imagine a day when our adult lives are no longer bounded by “work days” and “vacation days?” A time when we love our work so much that we don’t “need” a vacation from it?

Step up to your growing edge...take the leap...and soar!

Or am I just crazy? What do you think?

Cheers,

Dr J

Sun may set on your job...but rise to the work of your life!

Twenty Questions…and A New Video!

Dear friends,

I just wrapped a “prep” project for what I hope will be an opportunity to chat with Diane Rehm’s of NPR’s Diane Rehm’s show book segment. I had to answer the proverbial “twenty questions”…(Ok…fifteen!) which was time-consuming but also great fun as it forced me to think deeply about WHY I wrote my new book, “SHIFT: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear” –and why I’m passionate about helping people MOVE THROUGH FEAR and shift their lives into high gear!

I thought I’d share the question/answers with you here…BUT of course I still hope you’ll tune in when I get the call from Diane! Also…check out the cool new video that my publicity team created for me…I think it captures my excitement about the book as a tool for becoming a master “life-shifter”, the need for us all to get better at handling the up and down cycles of life… and my desire to help!

See below and click here: SHIFT VIDEO

Let me know what you think! I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

1. What inspired or compelled you to write Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear (GPP Life; April 20, 2010)?

There were two main drivers behind my passion for writing “Shift.” The first motivator emerged when I found myself frustrated with the dearth of current self-help books that I wanted to share with my clients. Today’s self-help literature feels so fragmented and “dumbed-down” to me. There are lots of short, pithy “motivational speech” type books about how to achieve happiness in five easy steps, and books that tackle anxiety and depression from a bio-medical perspective (the neuro-science angle is all the rage) and cognitive slant (“change your mind and you’ll change your life”), but very few that take a serious look at how change really operates in our lives—and more importantly: how to navigate the inevitable FEAR that accompanies change. I kept returning to books that were written up to twenty-five years ago (e.g. Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway or The Road Less Traveled) and finally decided that a book needed to be written that provides an integrated—mind, body, heart—approach to moving through change, and fear.
The second reason I was inspired to write “Shift” was that after working with clients for over 15 years from all walks of life—business, academia, government—I noticed a clear pattern, a series of distinct stages, that people would seem to go through whenever a big upheaval or transformative “shift” would happen in their lives. I definitely noticed it in my own life as well. In the process of shifting out of the corporate world, into the entrepreneurial, consulting arena, I watched myself go through specific stages, and experience distinct anxieties and fears, all of which paralleled exactly what my clients were going through. I decided that a roadmap of these stages, with tools for working through the fears that accompany them, would be exactly the kind of self-help book that I wished that I had been able to reach for…and one that could potentially help people relax more as they undergo change, perhaps not need the “pharma fix” to quell the symptoms—and in general, become more masterful at dealing with change.

2. “Shift happens,” as you so colorfully put it. If change is such a common and constant part of life, why do most people dread it?

We are constantly bombarded with media images of smiling, prosperous, skinny, happy people who are lounging on Caribbean beaches drinking Pina Coladas. This “endless happiness” rant—a sort of consumer nirvana, has become the holy grail of Western culture. Yet, the reality, as we all know, if we stop and think about it, is that life doesn’t really work out this way. Change, as the Eastern traditions remind us, is constant. We become so caught up in the quest for material wealth, security and so-called “happiness,” that when life does what it does—change—and we are called to grow and move beyond our comfort zones, into new jobs, new relationships, new careers, new family or community constellations, our first reaction isn’t excitement, or enthusiasm, but, unfortunately, dread.

3. Anxiety, worry, stress, and even depression often come with the territory of major life changes. What’s wrong with how most sufferers treat these painful symptoms?

The issue here is what I call the “myth of the symptom.” This myth is that just by alleviating the symptom, we will not only feel better, we WONT have to change. The reality is that most of the time these symptoms are a surface manifestation of our deep-rooted resistance—and fear—of change. We view the painful symptoms as “the enemy” when in reality, they may very well be our soul calling out to us to grow, stretch and move out of our comfort zones. In a word, to change!
Far too often, we seek to alleviate the symptoms, and temporarily feel better with pharmaceuticals or comfort food or excessive sleep or alcohol, but despite our best efforts, life keeps moving. We eventually have to heed the call to wake up and get with the program—to take a risk, step over the edge and change. Our jobs, our families, our relationships, our finances—these will all constantly morph and change.
On the other hand, as I’ve seen over and over again in my practice, especially with entrepreneurs and business leaders, even positive changes like a job promotion or starting a new business can bring on symptoms of fear. Unfortunately, our cultural tendency has become to avoid, dismiss or deny even the most positive opportunities to grow. Instead, we get stuck and reach for the pharma fix. This is unfortunate, because very often the symptoms which we label as BAD, are actually very helpful “pointers” to our need to move, grow and shift, if we could just wake up and “smell the coffee” as they say. This is why I approach fear—and its attendant symptoms, anxiety, depression, stress, etc.—with reverence and view them as potentially (not always) positive signs of growth and change, not as pain points that we should immediately attempt to banish or cover over with drugs.

4. In Shift, you confront the formidable subject of fear—but in a way rarely talked about in self-help books. Would you explain how fear and change naturally go together?

Too many self-help books treat fear as if it were an enemy, something to be avoided, dismissed and jettisoned as soon as possible so that we can get back to being fat, dumb and happy consumers. I’m frustrated with this approach to self-help, because I believe that the endless clamor for happiness and avoidance of pain is actually promoting the very opposite of what is intended: distress and de-motivation. Fear can be a great motivator. It shows up as a signal that it is time to “get in gear” and move forward in our lives, to take new risks, learn new ways of adapting, and to be creative. Fear is a signpost on the road that change is in the works, and it is not always, or even most of the time—bad.
In the context of change, our trouble starts when we feel anxious, or stressed, and we label ourselves as having something “wrong” with us, and make the symptoms worse. In truth, the push to grow and change that comes from the outer world, or from our soul’s desire to expand and create, often brings up the symptoms of fear—and this is actually a GOOD thing…a sign of life pushing us forward against the edge of complacency.

5. As you note in Shift, most people view change as a three-stage event—with a beginning, middle, and end. How did you come to see change as actually happening in six stages?

After reading the best-selling book “Transitions” by William Bridges and noting that most books of this type denote change processes as having these three basic stages, I started to notice that there was more going on in each of these stages than at first meets the eye. I started studying closely the events, the emotions, and the fears that showed up during the early, middle and ending stages of the cycle of renewal/change that clients were experiencing and I began to see a pattern of shifts that occurred all along the way, six of which are clearly identifiable: a rupture (breakdown), a release (ending, letting go), a retreat (rest stop), a revival (beginner phase), a rehearsal (new commitment) and a realization (manifestation). I found that breaking the change process out into these more nuanced stages was extremely helpful—mostly because the types of fears that we experience vary greatly at each stage along the way.
Recognizing that fear morphs and shows up differently at each juncture is an important element in becoming more masterful at moving through change—because we can come to EXPECT to feel fear, to consider it “normal” and not to denigrate or criticize ourselves for not always being thrilled with each stage even as we know that we are growing and evolving. Even at the culmination of a change process, what I call the realization stage—we can feel fear (fear of success!) and perhaps reprimand ourselves for not truly embracing the moment. Yet, when we become aware, for example, that fear may show up even in the realization of a dream, we can ride the wave of the symptoms with greater equanimity, calm, and awareness….and yes, even enjoy the ride~!

6. Most self-help books approach personal growth as a steady, uphill journey or a linear process. What makes Shift radically different?

Again, it is a Western conceit to consider personal development to be a linear, uphill, trajectory. This tendency to view life as a straight line towards enlightenment—or happiness—is built in to the culture mostly through out education system, which is designed with 2 or 4 year increments of study, each of which culminate with a graduation, and some formal ritual of completion. Yet, the deeper truth is that we never “graduate” from life. Thus, early in our lives, we are suffused with the cultural patterning which tells us that life is a series of steps to be climbed that lead straight up to happiness, prosperity and retirement. Yet, if we look at how nature works—in seasons and cycles—we see that life really doesn’t operate in a straight-line trajectory. Everything moves in cycles, and every culmination, or “realization’ or graduation, is followed by an ending, a letting go, and a return to a beginning.

7. In Shift, you take issue with the popular notion that everyone has an “authentic self.” So, how do you define identity? If there’s no such thing as the self, how can a person possibly develop self-awareness?

I like the way you phrased this question because although I take issue with the idea of an “authentic” self, I do believe that we have a self—an essential, deep and abiding beingness that is very real, but not static. The key to my approach to the self, and our need to constantly reinvent the self all throughout our lives, is to recognize that what we consider to be an “authentic” self is just a story, a narrative of how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how we are moving in the world at any given moment in time. It is not “inherent” or “real” or unchangeable—just the opposite in fact. What is “authentically” real about us is in constant flux—our roles, our beliefs, our attitudes—and once we recognize this it is very freeing. We can then give ourselves permission to re-write the “story of me” at any time, throughout our entire lives.

8. In Shift, you also take issue with the prevailing self-help focus on achieving happiness. Why?

I am not fundamentally against “happiness.” However, my concern with the trend towards studying everything about human life from a “positive psychology” standpoint is that it carries the assumption that happiness is something to be “achieved” as a goal, as a marker of a life well lived. Yet, how many people do you know that are constantly happy? Happiness is an ephemeral, moving, transient experience, and unhappiness—melancholy, sorrow, grief, and yes, even fear—are not always bad. I’m more interested in helping my clients live a life of meaning and depth, a life filled with exploration, creativity and risk-taking, than I am helping people to climb up a “happiness tree,” find a perch to hang out on and rot. Happiness is a great, if momentary, experience along the cycle of change that characterizes real life—not something to be set forth as the pinnacle to be achieved. This attitude toward life actually sets us up for the opposite experience—distress—because it is so unrealistic and more like a Hollywood movie than the way life really works. By being bombarded with images that promote striving for success and happiness as the epitome of life’s purpose—we set ourselves up to be highly self-critical, to rarely measure up…and paradoxically, to be very unhappy!

9. Why do you have a problem with experts who stress the power of positive thinking? Why do you see navigating change as a matter of the body and heart as well as the mind?

I am not against “positive thinking” or approaches to personal growth that incorporate awareness of how our thoughts impact and influence our feelings and behaviors. The thinking mind is a key component in the constellation of self; it is a crucial part of who we are. BUT, it is not everything. Human beings are much more than “brains on a stick”—we are thinking, feeling, and physical beings. Just changing your thoughts may have a temporary impact on your life—making you feel better, change a behavior for a while, but real transformation, the kind where you wake up and don’t even recognize yourself or your life, requires the full-on engagement of the emotional, physical and mental aspects of who we are. We have to bring the body/heart right up in the front seat with the head.

10. As you explain in Shift, the best approach to navigating change depends on whether a person is more of a “thinker,” a “feeler” or a “doer.” How can a person determine his or her particular predisposition?

Everyone uses all three of the modalities to move through life—thinking, feeling and doing. However, we all have a stronger affinity for one or two of these and tend to ignore or dismiss the others. In Shift, readers can take a simple diagnostic exam to help them determine which of the three modes of operating they lean towards—giving them information about what they should attend to and not ignore. In order for real transformation to occur in our lives, we need to engage with all aspects of our being—and knowing more about our natural tendencies can help us to be sure to bring into focus those areas of our lives that we might naturally ignore or dismiss.

11. Throughout Shift, you reinforce the benefits of meditation and yoga. How can these spiritual fitness practices help anyone deal with the challenges of change?

The real benefits of meditation and yoga are simple, yet profound. Both of these practices help us get out of our thinking minds and become aware of our emotional and physical states. We learn to attend to our breathing—a natural access route to become an observer, a witness of ourselves, whether in action in yoga postures, or in a relaxed, contemplative state like meditation. Learning to step back, create space for feeling, sensing and being present to our physical and emotional energies is key, for it encourages us to create a dialogue within our selves—to listen in for clues, symbols and signals about what is really happening in our lives—and how/what kinds of change may be occurring.

12. As you make clear in Shift, what most people really fear isn’t the end result, but the beginning. Would you share a few nuggets of wisdom or strategies for making starting over less daunting and more manageable?

A crucial strategy that I offer my clients—and everyone who is up against feeling stuck or resisting the call to change—is to remember what it was like to be a kid, to connect to that “beginner’s mind”. The key to becoming masterful at what I call “life-shifting”—moving through life’s upheavals and ruptures, is to become aware that every ending signals the shift to a new beginning. As we get older and more set in our expectations that as “adults” we’re supposed to “have it handled,” we may resist and fear endings.
But even more often, we struggle with the call to begin again, to start over, because being a beginner is often awkward and uncomfortable. I always remind my clients that life moves in cycles and that the “beginner” phase of any life change can be the most exciting, energizing, and fun part of the process. We have to give ourselves permission to view this stage—what I call the “revival” –as a creative, exploration process. We need to recognize that “feeling inadequate” is perfectly normal, and that if we can get in touch with the child-like energy that is always available to us at any age, we can learn new skills, re-invent our roles, and our sense of self at any point in life, even very old age.
I encourage older people, baby-boomers in need of renewal for example, to blend together the two energies—of the inner child and the wise adult—together in approaching new activities or learning new skills. It is not only ok to make mistakes, and to stumble along the way, it is normal and expected. We need to lighten up on ourselves and remember to have fun along the way. It is a misnomer to believe that “mastery” means doing everything well or being an expert. Mastery, to my mind, is about becoming aware that being an awkward beginner, a ungainly adolescent, and a struggling apprentice, are natural parts of an endless cycle of change—becoming masterful is about becoming adept at moving through these phases and not dreading, but delighting in the process.

13. In today’s economic climate, more and more people are being forced to change their careers, lifestyles, and expectations about retirement. Can you offer any words of reassurance or practical guidance to help them?

When I look to reassure people that they can get through a major change, or a difficult time in their career or family life, I remind them that ideas like “retirement” are very new on the cultural and historical scene. The fact that we are living longer and living healthier lives means that instead of worrying about retirement (although financial planning is wise), we have the opportunity to reinvent our lives over and over again rather than sit back, watch tv or play golf. By recognizing that we have the energy of creativity available to us at any age, and that what we consider our “defined self” is anything but determined, we are free to re-write and re-craft our own personal story all along the path of life.
I’m reminded of my adopted mother’s view of life. She passed away about a year ago after struggling with cancer for many years, but even in the last five years of her life, with cancer, she still found time to volunteer at local elections, work part-time in the city hall of my home town, and gather on weekends with friends and local folks that were decades her junior. When I would ask young people who loved brunching with her on the weekends, why do you hang out with my mom…I mean, she’s “OLD”? They would answer, “Because your mom is ageless. She has a joy about her, grit and determination, a wonderful sense of humor…and she really knows how to LIVE. It is a joy to spend time with her.” I feel grateful to have had a mom who really didn’t buy into the cultural story of retirement and “giving up” as you get old…she had innumerable careers, a busy, active social circle, and endless numbers of hobbies that kept her engaged literally right up until just a few weeks before she died.

In Shift, readers will find inspiring stories of a number of men and women who “re-invented” their stories about who they thought they were…at forty, fifty and beyond. You are never too old to learn how to master change, because change is occurring anyway…the key is strapping on, with enthusiasm, for the ride!

14. As you share, you trace the birth of your book all the way back to the fateful date when you were seven. How did learning the truth that you were adopted mark a seismic change in your life and identity?

I like to share my adoption story with people because along with other important “shifts” that I’ve experienced in my life, this is a great reminder that who we think we are is ALWAYS subject to change. I had an early life experience, a revelation, of how my sense of self was not “fixed” or fact. I have a genetic story of who I am that is different from the environmental story. I have moved at times in my life from feeling like an “orphan” to being embraced with having two families, and many friends. Life is like that. Our identities are not etched in anything even remotely concrete. When people come to me with stories of failure, or childhood trauma, or breakdown in their careers or relationships, I’m quick to remind them that this is just part of the story of who they are—and always subject to change.
Today in our culture, we suffer a great deal from what I call “crises of identity” because we get very attached to our jobs, our lifestyles and our material possessions. But, these are always subject to change…and this is not a bad thing, but can also represent an opportunity, for re-birth, growth and new expression of our potential as creative beings.

15. What is your greatest goal or aspiration for Shift? What would you most like any person grappling with a major change to learn from reading your book and do first?

What I most want people to “do” after reading my book, is to give themselves a break. HAHA. To relax more and lighten up. To realize that who they see themselves being and doing is not fixed in stone. As a culture, we need to re-connect with the child-like, playful, inventive energy that made our country great in the first place.
My greatest aspiration for the book is that people will come away with an awareness that they are always moving, shifting and changing and that this “fact” gives them a great deal of freedom to become bigger, better and MORE of who they dream of being…BUT they have to re-assess their beliefs about fear, and its attendant symptoms, and become less rigid, less “dictatorial” and attached to some so-called authentically fixed story of self.
I’d love to see people breathe a sigh of relief after reading “Shift”—and not be so quick to reach for the anti-depressants or beat themselves up for not always being happy. Instead, to recognize their fears and anxieties as normal responses to a deeper process that undergirds all human life: the impulse to grow, create and constantly be born anew…at any age.

Continue reading

Celebrating Fear?

Well, I guess this moment had to come. I can now “officially” call myself an expert on Fear!

Why? Well, in the midst of a hurricane gale and deluge of rain last Saturday here in the wilds of New York City, I sauntered into Barnes & Noble (to get dry!) and lo and behold…there on prominent display I discovered my own book: Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear!. Wow!!! So exciting to see my dream manifest…the book delivered, published and on the shelves of my favorite book store!

Iphone Blur but Happy!

So was I happy? You bet. Was I joyful? You bet! Was I anxious, worried, verklempt (is that a word?)? Yup! Yikes. How could I be feeling FEAR in the midst of what should be a celebratory moment?

Well, as you’ll discover if you read my book, there is a clear pattern of dread that follows us all through the ups and downs of change in our lives–even at times of accomplishment or great joy. Depending upon what stage we are in as we go through career change or relationship upheaval, different fears will come along for the ride.

The final stage in the journey through life change I call REALIZATION–typically a joyful, exciting and wonderful time in the cycle, when things all line up for us and we cross the threshold known as, “success”.

Sweet Success moments are the last places you’d expect to find fear, right? Wrong! Working with hundreds of clients over the years–executives, leaders, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers–I’ve witnessed over and over the great paradox of achievement: it not only brings great joy and happiness, temporarily, but it also brings on its own peculiar brand of stress, worry, anxiety…and you guessed it: fear!

So…when I saw my book on the shelves, and started putting together my book tour plans, and started thinking about celebrating this amazing milestone with my family and friends…well, lo and behold, I started feeling anxious.

Have you ever reached a pinnacle moment–a graduation, a promotion, an accolade–and in the very same moment you felt exhilaration…you also felt awkward, undeserving, anxious…fretful? Well, here’s the thing: before you reach for the Prozac or the Xanax…or the double scotch on the rocks..take a deep breath and say to yourself: this is normal.

Fear–of success, of making a mistake, of letting others down…and of course, THE BIG ONE: not being good enough–is a perfectly normal response to success. This fear, which may emerge just as we come up close to the edge of manifesting our dream–the altar, the threshold of fame, the signing of the contract–can keep us STUCK…hold us back…and, literally, if we don’t recognize and accept it as OK…destroy the moment.

The Joy of the Spotlight?

Far too often, our media-glitz, sound-bite culture only shows the “happy face” side of fame, of celebrity, of riches and acclaim…and then we act “surprised” when someone famous commits suicide or devolves into addiction. What happened we ask? How could someone so successful be so miserable?

By only seeing one half of the success equation–the joy part–we deny the truth of how life really works. Everything has a dark and light aspect and what we push away or deny comes back to bite us, often just when we are SUPPOSED to be ecstatic. If we clamor for achievement and think it will only bring happiness, we are setting ourselves up–for a fall.

So I am learning to celebrate FEAR…to welcome it in all its glory. It is a partner, a pal, a troublesome sibling all along the road or growth, expansion and creative expression. Here’s the real skinny: If you’re not feeling fear then you’re not growing!!!

My Buddhist teacher Goenka offers these enduring words of wisdom about the fear of success: “Sit still and BREATHE into it–inhale the joy of your success and exhale the fear…but don’t fight it. Don’t judge it. Don’t make yourself wrong.”

You ARE GOOD ENOUGH…you are…as am I…a miracle of creation. Our fears, especially in moments of great accomplishment…are simply a warning signal from an “Old Self” that the jig on an outdated story is up! Some small part of you may want to remain the same, to protect you from the big bad world of CHANGE. This vestigial self hopes you won’t grow and change and become DIFFERENT..new..and BIGGER.

BUT it is too late, the vehicle of self is in the groove…on the highway of transformation: you are on your way!!!! Learn to welcome the fear of success: It is a signal that you are doing something RIGHT…you are growing, becoming, moving and unfolding the next great vision of what your soul is calling forth from within.

I am truly excited to see my book out in the world….AND I have my moments of doubt, anxiety and FEAR…about what the manifestation of this dream might mean. I hope that my book…and my owning up to my fear…will help generate a much needed NEW conversation in our culture, about change, about fear…and about the ridiculous fantasy that we are always meant to be happy. NOT. Life is much too complex for such an seductive…but false, idol.

Terrific or Terrifying? Yes and Yes.

So as I shift into a new adventure…and hit the road to share what I’ve learned about change, fear and the mysterious journey we are all on together, I am learning to celebrate my fear…not to fight it or denigrate myself for feeling it. After all, I am human…and I am happy…but not blind: banishing fear is impossible. It comes with the territory.


“Smiling Buddhas smile because they are wise, not because they are happy.” S.N. Goenka

Cheers,

Dr J