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7 ways to have more gratitude (and 3 times not to be grateful)

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As I write this, we are fast approaching the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States. The season has me thinking about grateful womangiving thanks and being grateful.

It’s pretty well established that gratitude is good for you. Leading gratitude researcher Robert Emmons has found that gratitude leads to stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, more feelings of joy, and a greater sense of social connection, among many other benefits.

Guess what? One of the other important benefits is – you got it – becoming more resilient.

So let’s take a look at ways Emmons and others say we can generate more gratitude (and times when being grateful isn’t such a good idea.)


1. Stop and smell the roses. No, really. Smell them.

It’s not just the noticing of things we enjoy that creates the most gratitude, it’s the interaction with our senses that tickles our gratitude bone.

Inhaling the sweet scent of a rose, the ch-ch-ch of a sugar packet as you shake it, or the feel of cool water running over your fingertips helps you savor and appreciate your experience.

And now that you’ve smelled that rose, express your gratitude for it and the pleasure it’s given you.


2. Be grateful in a specific way to people.

It’s wonderful to hold gratitude for things such as roses and sunsets. But when it comes to people, it’s even better to be appreciative of specific things.

Tell your partner, “I so appreciate you vacuuming the carpet when I know it’s my job but you saw how exhausted I was from work this week.”

Say to your friend, “Thanks for asking me for coffee today when you noticed I was feeling down.”

Share with your child, “I love how you share your delight in all of these bright stars in the sky with me here tonight!”


3. Think about death and loss.

Okay, this one may not seem like a lot of fun, but it is very effective.

It’s easy for us to take things for granted – weighty things such as our own lives and the lives of people we love and less consequential things like the joys of chocolate or coffee or texting your best friend.

Thinking about your own death or the loss of a loved one helps you become more grateful for the life you have and for the relationships you enjoy.

And it’s not just a theory, says the Greater Good Science Center’s Jeremy Adam Smith.

“When you find yourself taking a good thing for granted, try giving it up for awhile,” he suggests.

Picture not having chocolate or coffee or – heaven forbid! – not being able to text your friend for a week.

Feeling more grateful for those things already, aren’t you?


4. Be aware of ideas of entitlement.

Do you find yourself feeling like people owe you something because you’re “all that and a bag of chips” as one of my clients says?

Robert Emmons writes, “Seeing with grateful eyes requires that we see the web of interconnection in which we alternate between being givers and receivers. The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed.”


5. Remember hard times.

As I’ve often written here on Bounce, perspective is an essential tool of resiliency.

It can also generate more gratitude.

Just recalling tough times in your life helps you see that you made it through that period to get where you are today – which is one thing to be grateful for – and hopefully allows you to have some gratitude about where you are right now.


6. Don’t make gratitude a chore.

In an interesting study on happiness and resilience, researcher Sonya Lyubomirsky had one group of subjects write a gratitude journal three times per week and one group journal one time per week.

Who felt happier and more positive after the study? The group who only kept a gratitude list one time per week.

It seems that gratitude can become a chore if you think that you have to write a list more than one time a week.

Maybe you don’t even have to write a list. But you do have to be conscious and intentional about feeling grateful.


7. Graduate-level gratitude.

Dr. Emmons: “It’s easy to feel grateful for the good things. No one ‘feels’ grateful that he or she has lost a job or a home or good health or has taken a devastating hit on his or her retirement portfolio.”

Jeremy Adam Smith writes: “In such moments gratitude becomes a critical cognitive process—a way of thinking about the world that can help us turn disaster into a stepping stone. If we’re willing and able to look we can find a reason to feel grateful even to people who have harmed us. We can thank that boyfriend for being brave enough to end a relationship that wasn’t working; the homeless person for reminding us of our advantages and vulnerability; the boss, for forcing us to face new challenges.”


When gratitude isn’t such a great idea


Amie M. Gordon, writing for the Greater Good Science Center, wisely points out that gratitude isn’t always appropriate.


1. Feeling grateful for someone who isn’t worthy.

Gratitude isn’t going to help in a relationship that is abusive or just plain wrong for you.

In fact, looking for the positive aspects may just keep you in an unhealthy situation for longer.


2. Avoiding problems through gratitude.

Gratitude helps us get our minds more centered and off of the little things that natter at us on a daily basis.

But, if we always “look for the bright side” and ignore the seriousness of an issue, we may very well get ourselves into more trouble than if we take a realistic view of the problem.


3. Minimizing yourself through excessive gratitude.

There are things you do well. Very well, in fact.

Give yourself credit for these things rather than using overwrought gratitude to appear humble. It’s great to give others kudos for their hard work, but don’t forget about your own!


Finally, here’s a great infographic that sums up a lot about gratitude:












What’s your take on gratitude? Have you ever used it in an unhealthy way? What helps you remember to be grateful? I want to hear about it in the comments below!



This post is based on several wonderful articles posted at the Greater Good Science Center website:


Six Habits of Highly Grateful People, by Jeremy Adam Smith.

Five Ways Giving Thanks Can Backfire, by Amie M. Gordon

How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times, by Robert Emmons

What Gets in the Way of Gratitude? by Robert Emmons

The Greater Good Science Center is extremely cool. They send out a newsletter every once in awhile that is chock full of positive stuff based on research. I think you should subscribe. (No, I don’t get any kickbacks from the GGSC. I’m just really grateful for the good energy they put into the world.)



I also mentioned Sonya Lyubomirsky (don’t try pronouncing that at home) and this is the reference:

Lyubomirsky, S. & Della Porta, M.D. (2010). Boosting Happiness, Buttressing Resilience: Results from Cognitive and Behavioral Interventions. In J.W. Reich, A.J. Zautra, & J.S. Hall (Eds.) Handbook of of Adult Resilience (450-464.) New York: The Guilford Press.


Infographic courtesy of the John Templeton Foundation.












How to bounce back even when you’re exhausted

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“I made a mistake and I’ve been awake the last two nights worrying about it.”cranky bananas

My friend, Valerie, said this the other night as we talked with a woman we consult with, Mary. Valerie made the mistake on an assignment for Mary.

“Oh, Valerie! I’m sorry you were so worried about it,” Mary responded, concerned. “Mistakes happen and I don’t get upset by them – they’re just a part of life.”

Valerie laughed. “I don’t usually get upset by them, either, Mary. I tend to lead a guilt-free life. It’s just that I was so tired and feeling stress from other things that I wasn’t able to get into my Zen place about this mistake.”

Valerie’s words started me thinking.

There are many aspects that can affect our ability to bounce back in life. Some of them are more esoteric, like defining our values and developing meaning in our lives.

But sometimes they are very obvious. As obvious as being physically and emotionally out of gas.


What is PCWT?

Many times I’ve had clients or readers recite a litany of painful emotions and their inability to bounce back, only to have them tell me shortly afterward, “I was really tired and not managing well when I told you all that. I’m better now.”

I can relate to this experience.

Very well.

In fact, I seem to hold royalty in many areas that people struggle with. You might recall that I have previously proclaimed myself the Queen of Tunnel Vision.

I now also proclaim that I am the Queen of Poor Coping When Tired (PCWT.)

When I’m tired, I can’t even find a Mediocre place or a Tolerable place, let alone a Zen place like my friend Valerie.

When I’m on the royal throne of PCWT, mistakes reduce me to tears, problems seem insurmountable, and I get snippy with those closest to me. Just ask my partner.

No, wait. Don’t ask her.


The thief in the night

There are many things that can make us tired, but the biggest culprit is lack of sleep – that wily thief in the night that robs us of our energy.

And what is it about not enough sleep that causes me to be the Queen of PCWT and you, possibly, to be a member of my court?

Part of the problem, scientists say, is that sleeping problems can interfere with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

According to Angela Epstein of the online Daily Mail (UK,) “REM sleep is thought to help consolidate memory and emotion, as at this point in sleep blood flow rises sharply in several brain areas linked to processing memories and emotional experiences.”

And in general, the American Psychological Association reports, “. . .  irritability, moodiness and disinhibition are some of the first signs a person experiences from lack of sleep. If a sleep-deprived person doesn’t sleep after the initial signs, the person may then start to experience apathy, slowed speech and flattened emotional responses, impaired memory and an inability to be novel or multitask.”

You can see that we need to sleep so that our brains can complete processes related to keeping our emotions on an even keel and to help us with problem-solving.


You already know this, but here are some resources anyway

I’m not going to go into how to get a good night’s sleep because I’m sure you’ve been inundated with information about it, especially if you have a chronic problem with sleeping.

However, if you’d like more information, this article on WebMD has some good ideas despite it’s overly-cheerful and unrealistic title, Your Guide to Never Feeling Tired Again.

 And you’ll find some reliable information from the American Psychological Association’s fine article, Why sleep is important and what happens if you don’t get enough.

 The solution about getting more sleep is an obvious one and the primary strategy we should use if we’re struggling with feeling tired frequently.


4 ideas to manage your emotions when you’re exhausted

But what do we do when we are tired?

It’s going to happen.

There will be nights that are difficult and stress that will happen and, because we’re human, we inevitably will go through periods of being tired or even exhausted.

What then? How do we maintain our resilience, our ability to bounce back?


1. Recognize that you’re tired.

This may seem obvious, but how many times have you reacted in a way that was out of character only to realize later how tired you were at the time?


2. Notice what is happening emotionally and physically.

 Part of recognizing that you’re tired is being aware of what being tired feels like.

Do you get snappy when you’re tired? Do you become overly sensitive? Do you get irritable and grumpy?

Do you become clumsy? Does your body feel heavy? Do you lose good posture?

Because we tend to live in a state of non-awareness, it’s helpful to start paying attention to what being tired feels like both emotionally and physically.

Once you understand what your body and mind do when they become tired, you’ll be better able to quickly identify that your energy is lagging and take steps to moderate your behaviors: responses to others, decision-making, thoughts about yourself, and so on.


3. Make an action plan for when you’re tired.

 An action plan sounds kind of tiring, doesn’t it?

Here’s what I mean when I say action plan: Now that you’ve recognized your tired, you need to have a plan in place that will allow you to manage emotionally and behaviorally during that time frame.

So, my action plan looks something like this:


  • Recognize that I’m tired.
  • Be cognizant of the fact that I get overly sensitive, snippy, and have problems making decisions.
  • Put off making important decisions if I can.
  • Pause before responding if I’m feeling a snippy remark coming on. (This is hard and I don’t always accomplish it.)
  • If I feel hurt by another person’s remark, set it aside to reconsider when I have more energy.
  • Apologize when necessary.
  • Take a nap or make a plan to recharge.


4. Apologize when necessary.

 Yes, you already saw this in my plan of action. I’m repeating it because it’s an essential part of bouncing back when you’re tired.

If you make a mistake or hurt someone’s feelings or act out of character when you’re tired, apologize.

Addressing the issue right at the moment it occurs will keep it from expanding out of control and will put you in good stead to bounce back into your Zen place.


Where do you stand in my royal court of Poor Coping When Tired? And what’s your action plan? Let me know in the comments below.

Then . . . go get some sleep.


How to bounce back even if you’re shy, introverted, or just don’t like a big posse

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We hadn’t heard from Noreen in three days, and I was getting worried.Portrait of business colleagues holding each other and laughing

She was in the hospital recovering from surgery but had developed pneumonia, so she had been moved to the intensive care unit.

For the first few days she was in the ICU, she kept up with texting and Facebook via her smartphone.

Then, suddenly—nothing.

I asked mutual friends if they had heard from her. They hadn’t.

A little poking around revealed that only one friend was listed as a contact on Noreen’s hospital medical chart, and that friend was out of town.

Frustrated and scared, I decided to go to the hospital to see if I could find out what was happening with Noreen.

On my drive there, more questions came up in my mind: Where was Noreen’s family? Who was her closest friend? Who was supporting her through this?

I arrived at the ICU and called the nurse’s station. I didn’t have much hope that I would get information due to privacy laws, but I had to try.

Inexplicably and mercifully, Noreen’s nurse came out to talk with me. She explained that Noreen was “out of it”—disoriented and not making any sense. The doctors weren’t sure what was causing the problem.

I was allowed in to see Noreen who, as reported, was not making a lot of sense. She told me that she needed to go home because she had a lot of things to do. Her face was ghostly white, and the tubes running in and out of her arms looked like a mass of plastic spaghetti.

So began a long journey for Noreen and her friends who love her.

I reached out to Noreen’s other friends and asked each one, “Are you closest to her?” Each time, the answer was, “No, I just know her from our dog obedience classes.”

After a while, we formed a group on Facebook so we could keep in touch with each other about how Noreen was doing. Slowly, we started to piece things together.

Noreen has family in another state but is estranged from them and didn’t want them coming to help her. She is a very private person, and it seemed this was why no one could step forward as her best friend and also why we didn’t know how serious her medical condition had become.

We quickly organized. I took the lead role and was designated as Noreen’s health care advocate. Other friends took care of her dogs and tended to Noreen’s home and financial affairs.

Still in the ICU, Noreen’s condition deteriorated as she contracted infection after infection. We almost lost her—twice.

But, excellent medical care and a steady stream of friends by her bedside, holding her hand and urging her to pull through because we needed her, somehow brought her back from the brink.

After two months in the ICU, Noreen is now in a rehabilitation facility and intent on getting back home to her dogs and her life.

Does ‘social support’ always mean having a best buddy and tight-knit group of friends?

Noreen’s story illustrates one of the components that contribute to the ability to bounce back in life: social support.

But, notice how Noreen’s social support was a bit different than what you might ordinarily envision.

When I suggest to people that increasing their social support may be helpful in getting through a rough time, I often receive replies such as these:

“I really don’t know a lot of people.”

“I’m shy, and it’s hard for me to make friends.”

“I’m new to the area, so don’t know anyone yet.”

“I don’t like to have a lot of friends.”

These are all valid responses and are true for the people who said them, so it’s not my place to say they are not doing social support right!

I’m not convinced there is a “right” when it comes to social support. We often think of social support as having lots of close friends and family or having a best friend. While close relationships are wonderful means of support—and I do encourage them when possible!—they’re not the final word in social support.

Let’s look at Noreen’s situation again. Does she have a best friend? Apparently not. Does she have family here to support her? No. Does she have many friends? Mmmm . . . sort of. She has a number of acquaintances; one might even say close acquaintances, plus a few good friends. But even her friends don’t know her that well.

The thing Noreen has that is so important is community.

Noreen is reserved and private and chooses not to be very close to people. Yet she is also part of a distinct group. She is a dog enthusiast and has participated for many years in activities in the world of dog sports. In so doing, she created a network of people with common interests who know her and grew to love having her as part of the dog-enthusiast community.

Even though she doesn’t have what we would ordinarily think of as social support—the best friend, the close circle, the tight family—she still has a community who became concerned when she took ill and sprang into action to help.

What’s your community?

Maybe your community isn’t centered on a common interest. That’s okay, it can still be a community!

A friend of mine told me a story about going into a print shop that she used to frequent often but hadn’t visited in a few years. As soon as she walked in, the owner broke into a huge grin and said, “It’s you!

That’s community.

Once or twice a week I go to my favorite restaurant where everybody knows my name. The servers all know me, the management knows me, and some of us regulars know each other. When one of us is missing for a while, we start asking after each other.

That’s community.

Where do I start?

If you’re asking yourself, “How do I develop community?” take a look at what resiliency researchers Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney suggest:

Gaining and giving social support is a process, not an event; it doesn’t happen overnight. Nevertheless, even if you feel friendless or isolated, it is important to start somewhere. No matter how small or weak your current network may be, you can take steps to increase its size and strength. For example, you might make a habit of smiling and saying “hello” to the neighbor at the elevator, or the coworker who sits near you, or you might pick up the phone and call a family member who is lonely or take the time to have coffee with a classmate who has just done poorly on a test. p. 95


So, you don’t have to have a best friend. It’s okay to be shy. No one says you need to have a huge circle of close friends.

But it helps to have a community. And that doesn’t happen overnight.

What does your community look like?


Reference: Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges – Ten key ways to weather and bounce back from stress and trauma. Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney. 2012. Cambridge University Press.

Tunnel vision? 5 ideas to help you see the light


I am the Queen of Tunnel Vision.tunnel vision

Case #1:

I want to find a branch of my bank near where I’m running errands, so I pull into the parking lot of a small shopping mall and consult my smartphone. It gives me an address that seems very close.

I pull out onto the street, make a u-turn to go in the direction I think the bank is, and as I pass by the shopping area where I was parked, I see the bank in the same parking lot.

It was directly behind where I had been parked, but because I was focused on finding the nearest bank, I didn’t look where I already was.

Case #2:

I’m at the gas station and I want to use my fuel rewards/grocery savings card to see if I can get a discount on gas. I shoot my card in and out of the slot quickly, only to see the display tell me that my card isn’t registering.

I know the magnetized stripe on this card has not worked in the grocery store slots, either, and I always have to ask the cashier to scan it for me.

Nonetheless, I continue to pop it in and out of the slot at the gas station, hoping the reader will be different than the ones in the grocery store.

No luck.

I insert the nozzle and start pumping gas at the regular price. I look around idly and my eyes fall again on the gas pump.

This time I see it. About twelve inches to the left of the card-reader slot is a scanner with a sign that has a large arrow pointing to the words, “Scan your fuel rewards card here!”


I was so focused on the card-reader slot and only the card-reader slot, that I was not able to see anything else on that pump.

I rest my case for being the undisputed Queen of Tunnel Vision.

Tunnels make you miss the light

Although these incidents are harmless and give me some amusement at my own expense, they also serve as a good reminder for me to be more aware of my tunnel vision syndrome. If I do it while looking for a bank or pumping gas, it’s quite possible I’ll do the same thing when a much wider perspective is needed.

When a problem arises or one of life’s storms blows in out of nowhere, having an extremely narrow view tends to keep us locked in on one component of it.

For example, when my late partner was diagnosed with cancer, my first reaction was to focus intensely on the cancer itself. What was it? How could we cure it? What were the best things for Ruth to eat? What was the most effective treatment?

These were all good questions to ask, but if I had remained fixated on only the disease itself, I would have missed something very important: the journey that surrounded the disease.

It was Ruth who first gave me the nudge that widened my vision. One day at a bookstore, she held up a book by Lawrence LeShan called Cancer as a Turning Point and said, “I think this is the answer. We should take a spiritual approach to my cancer. We don’t need all of these other medical books.”

That simple shift in focus brought many wonderful experiences to us. With our eyes off the cancer and looking about us, we noticed how many people truly loved us.

We saw the miracles that occurred each day in the ordinary: the flight of birds in the sky, the simple pleasure of friendship, the joy of laughter between us.

There were times when tunnel vision returned. When Ruth became very sick from her treatment, it was hard to focus on anything other than how to get her better. But even then, we learned to allow a simple, loving email from a friend to gently jar us loose from our fixed view and remind us that when life is at its hardest, there is beauty and love on the fringes.

Widening your view

If you’re a member of my Royal Court of Tunnel Vision, here are some ideas on how to broaden your view:

1. Notice when you are in the tunnel.

This takes some practice, but the next time you find yourself stuck on a problem – whether it’s where to put your fuel rewards card or figuring out how you’re going to pay your mortgage next month – stop for a moment. Ask yourself, “Am I entertaining all solutions or am I stuck on just one? Do I need to step back and look around me? How else can I think about this?”

2. Practice looking at things from another vantage point.

I love to read self-help books and I was completely caught off guard a couple of years ago when I decided to read Roger Van Oech’s A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative.

I don’t know what possessed me to read it since it wasn’t technically “self-help,” but I’m forever glad for that possession because it has turned out to be an invaluable asset. Through games, puzzles, and stories, it teaches you to look at life from a different angle.

I had innumerable “Oh, I get it!” experiences that not only made me see how very narrowly focused I was, but also gave me tools and ideas about how to widen my approach to everything from word puzzles to life problems.

If you can’t read the book, practice opening your viewpoint with these activities:

–        When you’re in your car at a stoplight, look around you rather than at your smartphone or radio. See what is next to you on either side and then look all the way behind you.

–        Try a few crossword puzzles. Crossword clues are intentionally designed to fool you by using words that usually mean one thing but can mean another. For example, the answer to the clue, “Render powerless?” is unplug. The answer to the clue, “Pain in the rear” is backseat driver. Get it?

3. Ask others for help.

When we are in the tunnel, it’s easy to think that it makes up our entire world. All we see and know is the dark, curved walls around us.

Maybe we need a little light to help us see that we’re in a tunnel, not in the real world. A friend can do that for us. Ask a friend to help you brainstorm ideas and solutions for the problem you’re facing. The old saying, “Two heads are better than one” is quite true in this case.

4. Look where you already are.

Sometimes we have what we need around us and we can’t see it. Just like when I was sitting in my car but never saw the bank right behind me because I was too focused on my smartphone.

Take a deep breath and look around you. Is there someone who can help you navigate this storm in life? Have you made it through darkness before and can use those same skills and attitude now? Is there still faith within you that there is a light at the end of this tunnel?

5. See if there is something on the fringe you are missing.

Just as Ruth and I found beauty and love on the fringes of her cancer, see what you can find around your problem. The only thing you’ll find in a tunnel is darkness.

Look for the light, my friend, look for the light.


How about you? Are you a member of my Royal Court of Tunnel Vision? What helps you to expand your view?

Let me know in the comments below!

Getting on with life despite devastating emotions


When I receive emails from people who are in crisis, most of the time they want to know how they can get rid of the painful emotions they are experiencing.

Drop the rope

Drop the rope

“My son has been arrested for dealing drugs, and I had no idea he even knew about drugs! I’m embarrassed, shocked, ashamed, and angry. How do I stop feeling this way so I can get on with my life again?

“My wife died two months ago and I’m still overwhelmed by sadness. I feel like I’ve lost my way in the world. How do I move through grief faster so I can have a life again?”

The assumption implicit in these questions is, “Painful feelings are bad and I need to get rid of them as soon as possible in order to get on with life.”

Because of this assumption, we may try to get rid of our feelings in a variety of ways: avoiding them, suppressing them, resisting them, or wishing they would hurry up and be over. This effort is a natural thing to do, since nobody likes pain.

The problem is that all of those resistance activities, while they might work in the short run, may magnify the feelings overall. There are two parts to this magnification mechanism:

1) The more we try not to think about something (“I’m not going to think about my grief,”) the more we think about it; and,

2) Because we are thinking more about the painful feelings, we may start to add to them with thoughts such as, “This is the worst pain ever. I can’t stand this.”

Dropping the rope

Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap, likens this process to being in a tug-o-war with a monster who is trying to pull you into a pit. You pull as hard as you can against the monster of your painful feelings, only to find that the monster grows stronger each time you pull. What should you do? Pull even harder?

How about if you drop the rope?

This does not mean you give up and don’t take action when it is necessary. This is about letting go of the resistance to your painful feelings so they don’t pull you further into a pit.

Finding out your son is a drug dealer and losing your wife to cancer are life-shattering events. Painful feelings are sure to arise. Allow them to do so.

And, take action when it is needed.

Perhaps you’ll want to learn more about drugs and addiction so you’ll know how to best help your son. Maybe you’ll want to join a grief group or see a therapist for support during your time of mourning.

The bottom line with life-altering traumatic events, as well as merely stressful everyday events, is that we may get too caught up in our minds with the negative thoughts and in our hearts where the painful feelings roil and stew.

With both severe and moderate crises, we can “drop the rope” by acknowledging that our thoughts aren’t particularly helpful right now and letting them go by, like leaves floating on a stream, and by allowing our feelings to just be rather than trying to get them to stop or leave.

By not resisting our experience, we may have access to more inner resources to creatively approach the problem facing us and take an active approach to solving it or figuring out a way to make it through a particularly difficult time.

What are your thoughts about these ideas? Is it hard to separate taking positive action from using negative avoidance strategies?


This is the last in a four-post series about learning to live a rich, meaningful, values-based life despite the challenges that life inevitably brings us, be they everyday annoyances or full-scale disasters. If you missed the first three posts, check them out here:

How to live a more meaningful life: An open invitation

Naming your values: The compass for a rich, meaningful life

How to manage your emotional demons


For a great read on this topic, check out Russ Harris’ The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT.

Therapists, life coaches, and counselors may be interested in ACT Made Simple: An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.



How to manage your emotional demons


Imagine you’re on a boat out at sea.sudden demon

You’re alone, except for a pack of scary demons hiding below the deck. As long as you keep floating around on the open sea, they stay below deck and you feel okay—for the most part.  Except for that nagging feeling that there are frightening creatures just out of sight.

When you decide you’ve had enough of floating around and turn the tiller to head toward shore, the demons come rushing up from below, gnashing their teeth and waving their razor-sharp claws at you.

“You have to stay out on the open sea!” they roar at you. “We’re going to slice you up with our razor-sharp claws if you don’t turn away from the shore!”

Frightened and intimidated, you turn your boat around and head back out to open sea. Slowly, the demons shuffle back under the deck.

For a while, floating aimlessly again on the open sea is okay. At least you have some peace and don’t need to worry much about the demons lurking close by.

But then you begin to notice other boats heading toward shore. You remember that you have plans to go ashore to see things you want to see and do things you want to do. As your hand moves toward the tiller to change course, you hear the muffled sounds of roaring and growling below.

Your hand trembles above the tiller. How can you reach shore with those threatening demons ready to pounce at the least movement of the rudder? Read more…

How to unhook from negative thoughts


Which of the following sounds better to you?self talking

A. “I go to this job because there’s no way anyone would hire me somewhere else.”

B. “I go to this job so I don’t have to put up with my husband hassling me about money all the time.”

C. “I go to this job because it helps me contribute to society, enjoy connections, and create community.”

Option C is obviously the most appealing choice. That’s because it’s based on values: contributing to society, enjoying connections, and creating community.

Much like a compass gives direction to travelers, values are the principles that we use to guide our lives.

Or do we? In my last post, I shared how easily I slipped back into old habits, and despite how much I value connection and community—which I find through interacting with you—I let a month go by before continuing our conversation about experiencing a richer, more meaningful life through aligning our behavior more closely with our values.

Slipping back into old habits is one way that we sometimes get away from value-based living. There are two more ways that we’re going to look at in this post and the next: getting hooked by our negative thoughts and getting hooked by our painful feelings. First up: negative thoughts. Read more…

The slippery slope of old habits


You might have noticed I haven’t been around for a while.slippery slope

I wrote my last post a month ago. What happened to me? Did I get sick? Did I have an accident on my new bicycle? Did I have a family crisis? Did I win the lottery and depart on a world cruise?

No. None of those events happened. Nothing happened in my life except that it got a little busier.

I’m preparing a workshop that I will be presenting in June. I’m moving my therapy office from one location to another. Those two tasks alone have taken up much more time than I anticipated. But why did I allow them to get in the way of my writing here—especially when I know so many of you are as excited as I am about our journey and the prospect of learning to live a more meaningful life?

I lost sight of my values.

I am taken aback by how easy it was to slip back into living in a manner that is less conscious than I want my life to be. Slipping is part of the journey, and that is the topic of today’s post.

Before we go any further, let’s do a quick review about our journey toward a more values-based, meaningful life.

The invitation

A few months ago, I posted How to live a more meaningful life: An open invitation. We had a great discussion about the idea that most of us are tired of living a life based on thinking, “When I acquire or achieve ______, then I’ll feel better or my life will be good or I will have ‘arrived.’”

The problem is that we spend much of our time trying to acquire or achieve whatever fills in that blank rather than fully living the life we have now. And then, when we finally acquire or achieve _______, we feel great for a while, but soon we’re back to feeling empty. And so we start striving toward the next __________ that we believe is bound to make us feel better.

The missing component is living by our values. Our values address questions like: What is my life about? What impact am I making on the world? How can I strive to live a meaningful life when I’m dealing with painful thoughts, feelings, and events?

Naming our values

Next, I posted Naming your values: The compass for a rich, meaningful life.  I also created a worksheet to help us name our values and identify which ones are most important.

And then, we looked at whether we are actually living those values.

I found that three of my top values were community, kindness, and making a difference.


Writing the Bounce blog and conversing with you is one way I create and enjoy community, exercise kindness, and make a difference in the world.

So, how was I so easily distracted from my writing?

I slipped into old beliefs  and habits.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with my preparing for a workshop or relocating my office. However, due to the time pressure I felt I was under, I reverted to my old thought process:  “When I get my office moved, then I’ll be less stressed. After I present this workshop, then I’ll get back to writing.”

I fell right back into “When _________ happens, then everything will be okay, and then I can write my blog.” It’s an old habit, and I’m guessing it’s one that you struggle with, too.

It’s easy to slip back into “When-Then” thinking. We need to accept that slipping happens, and then take action when we recognize that we’ve slipped.

Getting back on our path

In my next post, I will present some techniques to help us get back on our path when we slip.

I’d like to hear how you are doing on this journey. Have you done some work on naming your values?  How have you attempted to better incorporate your values into your daily life? What blocks you from fully living your values? Have you slipped like I did? What did you learn from slipping?

I appreciate your patience with me as I stumble over some rocks in my path. I hope I can turn them into stepping stones for us all!

How do we recover from the Boston bombings?


So, here we are again, talking about yet another atrocious attack on innocent and unsuspecting Americans.hands together

Three people are dead – including an 8-year-old boy who was watching his dad finish the Boston Marathon – and more than 150 people have been injured in the twin bomb blasts that occurred at the finish line of the iconic event. Several of the injured people are in critical condition. Some of the people near the blast zones had limbs amputated.

Once again, we ask ourselves, “How do we bounce back from this?”

Here’s how we do it:

We remember that Americans in general, and I believe, Bostonians in particular, are a naturally resilient lot. We have an innate chutzpah that brings us back from tragedy.

We rely on each other. Just as medical personnel and bystanders alike rushed toward the blasts to help, we reach out to each other for comfort and support and a safe place to vent our anger.

We refuse to be terrorized. Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe said, “This is a very tough town. We take only three things seriously here, and that’s sports, politics, and revenge. And the best revenge is the smiles of our children.” We carry on, our hearts heavy, but with the sheer determination to claim this country and the communities within it as our own. Communities that create the places where children continue to laugh and play.

We help. Someone from Arkansas called up a pizza restaurant in Boston and gave a donation so that the runners and other people dislocated due to the bombings could be fed while waiting to be reunited with their families. A pet hotel owner outside of Boston offered free board and care for the pets of first responders who had to work extra shifts.

We take responsibility seriously. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” wrote Thomas Paine in 1776. Each generation since can probably attest to the truth of these words as it points to one horrendous act or another. With the ease of finding information that promotes evil via the internet, our generation is faced with an abundance of people who can effortlessly and severely harm us. We must take responsibility for each other. This is not just a catchphrase, it is a call to action that each of us need take seriously, “If you see something, say something.”

We love. If you light a candle in a dark room, the darkness disappears. The light is not swallowed up by the dark. The light in our humanity is love. Remember to be loving. Remember to be kind. Remember to help. Remember that we are all connected.

We will not be terrorized.

We will bounce back.

We will love.Boston


What are your thoughts about terrorism in America? How do we help each other bounce back? You know my ideas and now I want to hear yours. Let’s talk about it in the comment section below.

Naming your values: The compass for a rich, meaningful life


We’re on a journey, you and I.compass

We accomplished our first step during my last post when we took an unwavering look at this formula: “When _______ happens, then I’ll feel better/be happier/consider myself successful.

We realized that this isn’t the best way to live our lives, because it keeps us waiting for the next thing to happen rather than living a rich, meaningful life right now. We decided to begin our journey by answering the questions, “What am I doing? And why?”

In order to answer those questions, we need to look at our goals and values.

In our American culture, it’s easy to get caught up in goals-based living as represented by the when-then formula above. Goals are useful. They help us stay on track and move forward in a positive direction. But goals alone don’t answer the questions, “What am I doing? And why?” We must examine the relationship between our goals and our values. Read more…

Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.