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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

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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!

Death is Life

“Endings…beginnings. Sometimes it feels like there is very little difference between the two. Both are hard. Both occur seemingly at random. Both are unpredictable. Life is like that.” Anonymous

Welcome back blog readers! I’ve missed you! It has been a while! My apologies for dropping off the blogging radar screen these past few months. I haven’t gone far from the writing scene actually…but been consumed with completing my soon-to-be-released book, Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear, which will–hurrah!–be in bookstores in early April (you can pre-order it NOW on Amazon!)

Coming Soon...

And so…as I return to the blogosphere today, ushering in the new decade and with a new book about to hit the shelves, I’m deeply aware of the cyclical nature of life–filled with endings, deaths of a sort–and new beginnings. On some fundamental level, this natural, but all-too-often denied cycle of life is at the core of what my book, Shift, is all about.

Over the past couple of decades, we Americans (and maybe Westerners in general) seem to have lost touch with the reality that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, in life moves in cycles–relationships, careers, economies, business. We have slipped into a “growth” trance, falsely believing that real estate prices always go up, credit to buy “more” is always available, that “saving for a rainy day” is unnecessary because rainy days can be avoided with Prozac.

As we emerge from this difficult time, I hope those of us in the self-help world will also sober up a bit…get off the
“instant happiness” and “five steps to bliss” trains…and re-dedicate ourselves to supporting our readers through the very real twists and turns that make life meaningful…and an on-going mystery.

Life can be tough, challenging, and frightening…but also inspirational and filled with deep meaning. But we have to be willing to face the music and accept the truth: all parties end. After all, we humans are just tiny, yet miraculous little containers of water and dust floating on a huge fire/dirt/water ball in space…What do we REALLY know of the “grand design?”

Our Tiny Home

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a short, but moving candlelight vigil service in honor of a dear friend and neighbor who recently passed away. Carol was only in her early fifties, a vibrant, passionate, and warm human being–and the star real estate agent in my apartment building. As we neighbors compared notes, we came to realize that a huge percentage of us had purchased our coops in the building (in NYC we have COOPs not just condos!) because of Carol’s heart-warming enthusiasm for our building and neighborhood, along with her impeccable integrity. We all wanted to have HER as a neighbor.

Now, sadly, she has left us–gone way too soon.

Saying an emotional good-bye to my dear friend, and being ever-present to the recent devastation and loss in Haiti, I am deeply aware of how unpredictable life can be. Perhaps just to maintain some semblance of equilibrium, and to be able to get out of bed in the morning with a modicum of optimism, we Americans tend to dismiss, deny, and generally ignore (or medicate against) the cyclical nature of life.

Sunrise or Sunset? Maybe both?

But…DR J, you might ask, why focus on the negative? Why not just read the latest tome on how to “change your mind and change your life” (not!), pull out that Visa card, take your Abilify…and get on the “happiness train?”

Well, I’m not fundamentally against happiness! But, I would say that when we deny the reality that EVERYTHING in life is transient, everything moves in cycles–everything ends–we lose touch with the depth, the meaning, and the possibility that life’s downturns provide. We miss the spaces for learning, the opportunities for being moved, the moments of deep connection, and most fundamentally, those mysterious openings when something new is being born in us in the wake of an ending. Newborns, of the human or theoretical ilk, require SPACE to grow and flower. Empty space. Gaps in endless productivity. Breaks from shopping. Hibernation. Quiet moments of contemplation and solitude. All of the above…

I’m excited about my new book. It is a different kind of self-help book…one that I hope will truly HELP people instead of filling their heads with false fantasies about the so-called “Secret” ways to attract cars, mansions and eternal riches into their lives. Not!

In Shift, I do lay out a “prescription” of sorts, for how to deal with life’s upheavals and cycles in a meaningful, enriching, and energizing way. After creating what I call the “Life-Shifting” program for self-renewal, and seeing it work, in real time, with hundreds of clients from all walks of life, I wanted to share my findings–and offer a “road map” through the dark woods of change–into the light of new beginnings.

In the book, I also share my own personal journey through the vicissitudes of change (not without a bit of drama!) and share some truly amazing stories of transformation that I’ve had the privilege of witnessing firsthand. You really can “re-invent” yourself — at any age, in the face of any difficulty. I’ve seen it.

So…In honor of the “new conversation” that I hope to kick off in the coming months, I’ll shortly be bringing this blog to a timely end…and gearing up to launch a new website and blog at http://www.Jeffreyhull.com.

Stay tuned for the kick-off date. I will be back soon with announcements about timing and exciting events where you can join me in person — and learn more about how you can “make the shift” and transform your life into a meaningful, soulful, and yes, even joyful journey.

Many Paths, Many Possibilities

In the meantime, here are a few of the questions for you to ponder:

How do you weather downturns in the economy? Or in your Life?

Do you reach for the pharma fix or instead step back, reflect, breathe…become aware of your fears… and recognize that “this too will pass”…that endings and down moments are, well, just NORMAL!?

Have you taken time during this economic tsunami to reflect on what really matters, to re-evaluate your priorities?

Are you “making the shift” to live out your dreams..yet staying grounded in the “real” world?

I’d love to hear from you!

Namaste,

Dr J

Coping with Fear? Take a Breath

As some of you may know, I recently had the opportunity to garner a couple of minutes of fame–by being profiled in the NY Times. If you haven’t seen the article, here’s the link: NY TImes. In addition, I will be featured in an article in Investor’s Business Daily–on “Managing Success in Tough Times”–sometime in the next couple of weeks. It has been exciting to get a little attention from the media, especially since I’ve been writing and coaching executives and business leaders about coping with fear and anxiety, stress and worry…all that stuff that we are ALL experiencing these days, for many years. Not that I’m really thrilled to be focusing on the dark side of life, so to speak, but at least the media is taking a fresh look at the issue of fear — in society, business, and life — and not everybody, at least not me, is selling meds!

Is this YOU?

Is this YOU?

That said, I’ve been surprised by how difficult to understand the journalists find my rather straight-forward advice. If you’ve read my blogs before, or seen my website, you’ll note that I believe there are basically six key steps involved in moving through fear — and getting your life back on track. It seems that step #2, however, is a real sticking point…at least with journalists. Then again, maybe they are a specific demographic who need their own “prescription”…or as the New Yorker says in the musical “Rent”: “I don’t choose fear, but I’m a New Yorker, and FEAR is my life!” Hah. A media lament?

Anyway, just for the record I want to clarify and reinforce the importance of my second step to releasing fear: Don’t React, Respond. You see, once you have taken the first step–RECOGNITION–and actually become aware of the fact that your stress, worry, anxiety, irritation, short-temper, etc. are, in many cases, ALL symptoms of an underlying sense of dread–FEAR–then, and only then can you take the next step: REFLECT. BREATHE. Create some space between your thoughts/feelings and your actions. Is this so difficult to grasp?

or is this you?

or is this you?


Perhaps, the issue is not understanding but more an issue of admission; admission of our anachronistic, out-dated, type-A habit of REACTIVITY: acting without thinking. We all do it. We all, in fact, have been told over and over again by just about every self-help book and leadership training seminar that ACTION is where it’s at. You know the mantra: “Get moving”. “Get a goal”. “Get a trainer and GO”. Well, yes…and no.

The NY Times writer had particular difficulty with my second step. He was constitutionally unable to write words like “breathe” or “find space to reflect” or “be responsive rather than reactive” — all quotes that I had hoped would end up in the NY Times. Instead, as you’ll see in the article, I got “use calm deliberation when making a decision instead of being rash–or something like that–and then he added that I said that I “hammer this distinction into my clients.” OY! First of all, as a psychologist I know better than to hammer anything into my clients…or anyone else for that matter. That’s right, go ahead and hit the man when he’s down. NOT.

But no matter, I’m thrilled to have been provided that opportunity to express some semblance of my views in the NY Times, so I have no beef with the writer. I just wonder why it is so challenging for these guys to “get” the idea of stepping back, taking a deep breath or maybe five deep breaths, getting centered and grounded before acting. It seems that in our Type AAA world, the idea of repose, reflection, and BEING (instead of doing), is very nearly revolutionary. I’m not sure that you’ll find the work of Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer or Marianne Williamson on the book shelves of the average newspaper writer. That’s ok. BUT — they really miss the boat…and the boat being captained by what I’m going to call the “Type B” leader has left port bound for smoother seas. Type A…or more recently Type AAA, captain’s ships have sunk.

In fact, it is just this type of “shoot now, think later” kind of action-hero business and political leadership that has gotten us into the current economic quagmire in the first place. The same old stuff is just not going to work anymore. It is time to grow up, to step back, become more conscious of the impact of our actions–and take RESPONSIBILITY for how we BE in the world.

Fear, that ubiquitous blanket of anxiety that drives so much of our lives, does not have to WIN. Life is not a battle to be fought but an experience of richness, depth and experience to be savored. BUT, you’ve got to create the space for the experience to unfold…and that requires a G-A-P between feeling, thinking…and acting. A breath. A moment of repose. As Eckart Tolle might say, a moment of NOW.

So after taking a few deep breaths on this chilly, blustery, sun-washed Saturday morning here in NY, I rest my case against FEAR: it does not have to own us, or control us, or take us down the garden path towards despair. It is a feeling, a series of thoughts that grip us tight sometimes, but only as tight as we allow. The key step in releasing the demon of anxiety is NOT a prescription medication but rather a practice of BEING alive and remembering to breathe, create space between the words, the decisions, and the action of life.

Funny, the journalist from Investors Business Daily and I share something in common: a home in the woods just north of New York (where I was pictured in the NY Times). That article hasn’t come out yet…and I was a little concerned that he too, had trouble grasping the idea of “stepping back” from the brink of reactive action-mode…but I’m hoping that maybe just before he writes the article, he takes a long walk in the woods. Maybe he’ll stop by a river and sit for a moment. Maybe he’ll gaze up at the sky, scan the horizon of beauty that surrounds him, be visited by the delicacy and grandeur of a deer (one not pursued by a hunter!)…deer-photoand then, once back at the computer…he’ll take a deep breath and share my ideas from a place of “calm deliberation”–a whole, centered, blissful place that is always available, always within us all. A place of mystery and depth and joy–a place beyond fear.

Ok, I can always dream!

Happy breathing!

Dr J