Embracing the Low Tide Moments

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments


In a year plus of massive transition and upheaval, this week has been especially so. In light of those dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane, none of it was life-threatening or cataclysmic. But it still was a force multiplier of emotions that left me weary and raw — but also hopeful and grateful.

Here’s a summary of the week:

  • Our older son Logan and daughter-in-law Sarah moved from Austin back to Portland.
  • Our younger son Caden moved into his own place here in Austin.
  • Lynna and I moved to a new place and spent our first night as “empty nesters”. (An aside, I really dislike that term. Any suggestions on a better descriptor?)
  • Several other key relationships were full of tension, testing and conflict. These are relationships that have been a lifeblood to me so to have them disrupted was especially painful.

Oh … and I still had a business to co-run, clients to coach, spiritual practices to continue, adulting to do.

All of these combined to create a sense of low tide. I had previously hated these low tide moments: when our first son moved out, the passing of my grandparents — plus many other low tide moments in relationships and situations. In each case, I tended to go numb during the low tide moments. I felt exposed and vulnerable. Like everyone could see my scars, the debris, the hidden wreckage. I wanted to hide, lash out, cover up.

At best, these low tide moments were something to endure, something to overcome. So I tried to rush through them — like rushing would bring back the high tide. The low tide moments caused me to harshly judge myself for feeling the way I felt. They also carried a series of triggers that caused me to be hurtful to the people I most love.

This week was different. But I didn’t realize how different until sitting in my new thinking/reflection spot in our new home. In this week of upheaval, my mantra was “find the joy in each moment”. For the most part, I did. There were moments of feeling exposed, but I expressed them. There were moments I lashed out, but I asked for forgiveness. In the process of finding joy in each moment, I had three epiphanies:

  1. Yes, the low tide exposes scars and debris and even some death. But it also exposes treasure, nourishment, discoveries. All of which are impossible in high tide.
  2. No two low tides are the same. The natural process of drawing back and being exposed always appears differently. Yes, some of the same landmarks. But always different treasures and different debris.
  3. The high tide always returns. Always.

My intention is to continue my new-found embrace of low tide moments. I want to use them to practice gratitude, awareness, patience — especially in the low tide moments of relationships. I am certain these are the treasures that the low tide brings every day.

The Seven Thieves of Modern Life

By Leadership, Self-WorthNo Comments

Despite the headlines, all the data shows that we are in a great age of prosperity and abundance. Probably the most prosperous and abundant era in the history of the human race. Yet if that’s true, why is there still so much suffering and unhappiness — especially in the US?

I believe it’s because we’ve allowed a set of thieves to steal our energy, attention and connection to self. I call these the Seven Thieves of Modern Life. Here they are and what to do about them:

  1. Worry. Worry is highly addictive unnecessary waiting. It’s ego attaching happiness and peace of mind to an external condition or outcome. Worry hijacks our natural coping mechanisms and makes us obsess over the trivial and insignificant. Worry robs us of present moment. Worry warps our lens of how we see ourselves and others.
    Solution: The only solution for worry is action. The first action being awareness of the worry, then a willful decision on what to do about it.

  2. Distractions. We receive 5000–7000 behavioral requests a day. People, alerts, advertising, emails, outside stimuli — all demanding our attention. It has made our minds weary; effecting our decision-making, ability to prioritize and our sense of what is important and what is not important.
    Solution: We all need occasional sacred space — a walk, nature, reading, meditation … whatever is uniquely your recovery space. Even 5–10 minutes of uninterrupted stillness goes a long way. But we must demand it and create it because it can’t be given to us by others.

  3. Comparison. Our economy runs on comparison — improvements, upgrades, status. We compare our lives to each other — often through the lens of social media. We compare our own performance as a human to some impossible ideal that we agreed to. All of this comparing just feeds the ego’s never-ending appetite for more. It robs us of gratitude and self-worth — and puts us in a perpetual state of There or That.
    Solution: The cure for comparison is clarity. Clarity about who you truly are, what you believe, what matters to you. This clarity protects you from internal and external comparison. It allows you to interact with humanity as your true self. It brings discernment to what you give your value and attention to.

  4. Attachments. Attachment is part of the Human App. We naturally attach our happiness to ideals, goals, other people’s behaviors. The list is endless. Attachment becomes a thief when our identity is completely tied up in what we’re attached to. A great example is a career or title. We are not that career or title, but because we are so attached to either, it informs our world view, sense of worth and decisions.
    Solution: The solution to attachments is self-examination. Some would call this “awareness” but I believe it’s deeper than that. If you are honest, self-examination will reveal what you are attached to and how it is driving your decision-making. Self-examination reminds you of your power to trace the root of the attachment to its source — then either say “yes” or “no” to the attachment.

  5. Options. We have too much choice. Closely related to comparison and distractions, we are inundated with options — all designed to consume our attention and value. Comfort, short-term gratification and distraction are plentiful — and just a few clicks away. We create preferences based off these options — and don’t pause to ask if we truly want (let alone need!) that particular preference.
    Solution: The Power of Choice is the solution for options. No one can decide for us. No one can make us do anything. It’s all choice. By reclaiming the power of choice, we are also re-claiming our yes’s and no’s. We are re-establishing what is essential and necessary vs comforts of life.

  6. Information. Similar to options, we have too much information. We search and Google and read reviews and consume “news” — all to feed our ego’s need to know. This robs us of being grounded, centered and present. It also creates the angst that we are missing a key piece of information that we need. And that it’s just around the corner.
    Solution: Context is the solution to too much information. Context is the ability to use reason and logic to discern what’s important and what’s not important. Context breaks the ego’s lock on information and returns it to being a tool rather than a master.

  7. Isolation. So many friends and followers, yet so little actual connection. Many blame social media for this. Social media is just an amplifier of real life. We have found it easier to maintain a cordial, surface distance from most people — even within the walls of our homes. This disconnect from others leads to isolation. A sense of deep aloneness where you lose your sense of self and of humanity. Distractions, coping tools and information just make it worse.
    Solution: Connection is the key. Actual, real soulful connection to other humans. We are designed for solitude (not isolation) so that we can more fully connect to others. This requires a lot of spiritual nudity; showing your true self without the aforementioned attachments. When you can connect on a daily basis, these conversations become little rest stops on the otherwise wearisome road of life.

I’m certain there are more thieves of modern life. And I’m certain that many of these are over-lapping — even feeding off each other. But my key point is this: every one of these thieves enters by invitation. This is why I believe so strongly in sovereignty, self-love and personal liberty. You don’t need to build walls or stronger locks. You just need to stop inviting them to enter your lives.

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

By Self-Worth2 Comments

How often do you show up to situations and events as your true self? I have done poorly at this in the past. My pattern was either put on a performance (in order to be accepted) or retracting into a shell (to protect my ego). But that has begun to change.

As I’ve written about frequently here, the last several years have been a time of massive — and often terrifying — transformation. One particular area is this matter of knowing your true self. I had to strip away all that I was taught (directly and indirectly) about myself. And even the ideas and definition of “self”. I’ve had to examine my attachments — and what those attachments do for my identity. I had to strip away veneer and sandblast the remnants of old movie sets and old roles.

Beneath all that, I found someone I love unconditionally. Then, and only then, was I able to show up as me.

The discipline to show up as your true self feels very exposing and vulnerable — a sort of spiritual nudity. Showing up as your true self is full of risks. It may cause many people in your life to turn away. It may cause you to take an unplanned path that doesn’t fit your plan. It will most definitely lead to temporary hurt.

Recent experiences have taught me that showing up as your true self does not eliminate the risk of being hurt or rejected. In fact, it increases those chances. After all, if you have been showing up in costume, you may be unrecognizable out of it. But I did it anyway. I showed up as me. I expressed my fears. I spoke from the heart. I eliminated all pretense. It was terrifying, purifying and exhilarating.

On the other side of all that is this truth: when you show up as your true self, you learn even more about yourself. And that makes it totally worth it.

So … allow me to (re)introduce myself with this …

I am Justin. I am …

  • A living soul
  • God’s unique creation
  • A Sovereign being
  • A whole and complete man
  • A Believer
  • An overcomer
  • A father
  • A friend
  • A leader
  • A Warrior
  • A Messenger
  • A primal, sexual creature
  • A man of simple pleasures
  • A man with high standards
  • A man with a complex mind
  • A truth-seeker and teller
  • A free thinker
  • A learner
  • A Coach
  • A writer
  • A presenter
  • Brave
  • Defiant
  • Sensitive
  • Awake
  • Generous
  • An adventurer

Treat me with respect. Communicate with me with directness and specificity. Don’t stifle my feelings or words. Don’t ask me to modify to make you feel better. Forgive me when my intensity is too much.

This is me. Who are you?

5 Things I Learned in the Wild

By Self-WorthNo Comments

A week ago today, I was back home in Austin after 8 days in Alaska. The highlight being helicoptered with my friend/guide Mike Green out of the Upper Moody area near Denali, AK. After 20 miles of backpacking over two days, I had injured my hip and couldn’t continue. Although I journaled about it privately and shared a recap with my inner circle, I intentionally waited a week to write a Medium post about it. I wanted to see what had stayed with me — and what returned that I thought I’d left out there.

My #1 intention for going was not just to get away or go off the grid. It was to see what I was made of; to voluntarily put myself in an uncomfortable place that required me to dig deep and stretch far. I accomplished that absolutely — despite the change of plans.

A week later, I’m seeing the permanent shifts in me. Here’s my best attempt at a top 5 list of takeaways from the experience …

  1. I accepted (finally) my physical limits. I’ve always had the construct in my mind of what I wanted to be as a physical being. I remember early in adulthood, cutting out a picture of Dallas Cowboy Defense Tackle Chad Henning and saying “I want to look like that”. Part of this construct is that my mind would help me overcome any physical limitations. That I just needed to try harder. But then I did my very best physically and mentally and I still couldn’t continue. A few years ago, this would have devastated me. But now I’m grateful that I know my limits. I accept that my body has physical limits. And I’m grateful that my body broke before my mind did.
  2. Never stop moving other than to rest. If life boils down to just one step at a time forward, that’s still progress. I will never forget the sound of the bear bell jingling as a reminder that, although slow, I was still moving. One of the things I’ve learned this year is that there is always a path forward but it is often revealed a step at a time — which requires active faith. Related to this, I overcame my fear of rest. I know that sounds strange, but I’ve often attached shame to a need for rest. There was no shame in sitting and recovering in order to continue.
  3. Disconnection is Highly Over-Rated. A lot of people said they were envious that I was going off the grid. I was isolated from the people I love and the rest of the world for 4 1/2 days plus large portions of other days. I hated it, to be honest. It was miserable but it made me realize how much I have to be grateful for. I felt my little tribe in my heart even out in the Wild. That was comforting, but not nearly as much as hearing their voices — then the sweet bliss of seeing their faces and being in their presence.
  4. Trusting a Man. I don’t generally trust men. There are many I respect and admire but something in my conditioning made me distrusting of men — especially alpha males. Prior to and during the adventure, I had to place 100% trust in Mike. I had to trust him with his guidance on what to pack, his guidance on where we were going and eventually his guidance on the best way to get out of our predicament. I had to trust him with my weakness and feelings of failure.
  5. Nature purifies the Soul. Purification means returning something to its original state. Being in the Wild and seeing its relentless existence and perfect harmony was a crucible for removing old constructs and imagined limits. And putting me face to face with reality: real limits, real fears. Unlike us humans, nature is not dichotomous. It just is. This singleness of being makes nature only temporarily bendable. Preparation, planning and prioritization also become very real and present. I was not prepared and nature made sure to let me know that. In the purging of constructs I found that I am happy, whole and have extraordinary life for which to be grateful for.

Returning to “civilization” was rather jarring. I found myself flooded with agitation and irritation at the trivial pursuits, taken for granted privileges and thin conversations. We humans are less civilized people and more domesticated creatures; pack animals loaded down with attachments, expectations and the unnecessary. This is why we must return to nature again and again — to be reminded of our own fragile wild.

Killing Me Softly

By Self-WorthNo Comments

“In order for something to live, something has to die.”

I don’t know if this is an anonymous quote I once read, something wise uttered by a friend or it was placed on my heart by the One who places things on our hearts. Regardless, it is a revelation that has helped me to understand my own transformation and journey over the past few years.

We see this in the foundation of creation. The cycle of life in nature. The seed dying so the root can spring forth. We see it in humanity. Heroes laying down their lives for their friends and causes. It is all around us but it is also in us — this cycle of living and dying.

I have found much of the construct of “me” has died or is dying. Old beliefs, old roles, old expectations, old methods, old plans. Like in nature, each of these deaths have been messy. I would love to say that I plunged into each of them with enthusiasm and bravery but that would be a lie. In each case, my heart saw the death before my head did. And oh did my head fight back. “This isn’t the plan!!” uttered or screamed in anger or desperation many times.

In each case, there was an eventual surrender to the process of dying. This surrender was a massive perspective shifter — for in the surrender, I saw the new life emerging. I saw that the construct of “me” was a limiter of potential, expansion, love, gratitude. By letting these old constructs die, I saw tremendous growth in all of these areas. I entered into new revelations, new friendships, new adventures. All of which would have been impossible if I had embraced stasis.

I also noticed this … some things didn’t die. They became stronger. My faith in God. My belief in sovereignty. My love for others. My self-worth. My intuition. These came with me and grew as I emerged from the carcasses of each phase.

I also lost some things in each of these deaths. The illusion of control. Any ability to tolerate or participate in conversations about small things. My political and religious stridency. My trivial passions. My obsession with acceptance. My propensity to waste time.

I know new deaths await me. I feel my ego’s white-knuckled grasp on several things. I feel fear flood my psyche. I hear the voices of preservation. But now I know a secret … these responses are simply evidence to keep going.

Of course, at some point my soul will leave the shell of this body behind. My hope is that I will be prepared for that — because I would have already lived and died and lived a thousand times before.

5 Signs You Aren’t Spiritually Curious

By Leadership, Self-WorthNo Comments

Just as emotional intelligence (EQ) has become a more respected leadership measurement than IQ, I think spiritual intelligence (SQ) will eventually transcend both EQ and IQ — especially related to leadership. While there are assessments for both IQ and EQ, I’m not sure if there will ever be an assessment for SQ. But I am certain that being spiritually curious is the starting point.

What do I mean by “spiritually curious”? It might be easier to explain by reverse engineering from these 5 signs you ARE NOT spiritually curious …

  1. You don’t ask “Why?” enough. This is the most obvious one. Asking why is an indicator of healthy skepticism. From the Apostle Thomas to Galileo to the Wright Brothers, free thinkers have listened to the voice that asks why and used it as fuel to discover, invent and innovate.
  2. All of your beliefs were taught to you. One of the questions we ask prior to a Root Session is “What is something you’ve always believed?” This question is intended to prompt the participant to go inward and examine the difference between always-been-there beliefs and beliefs taught to them by religious figures, parents, teachers, talk show hosts, etc.
  3. You use belief terms for science. Do you “believe” in evolution, global warming, quantum physics, etc? These are theories to prescribe to, not things to believe in. By using belief terms for scientific theory (or facts), you make science a form of religion.
  4. You use scientific terms for beliefs. A sure sign that you lack spiritual curiosity is that you want scientific proof of the unexplained and the unexplainable. To be spiritually curious means to have at least some level of faith in the unknown. It means having the intellectual humility to accept that not everything can be known.
  5. You are threatened by people who don’t believe what you believe. If you are afraid to listen to, study or expose yourself to people with alternative belief systems, you are encasing your soul in an atrophy-inducing pod where nothing grows. This type of religiosity not only creates a barren life, it creates fear-based tension between peoples.

Here is a free #6 sign you aren’t spiritually curious … if this post offended you.

The Root Of Fear

By Self-WorthNo Comments

Understanding your fears is a big part of what we do at Root + River related to helping uncover a leader or organization’s brand. Fear may be an unexpected topic for a brand strategy, but fear determines our reality. Our fears frame and inform how we see the world, how we make decisions and how we envision a future.

When we start digging into fears with a client, we ask them if they know the only two innate fears we are each born with. The answers range from fear of the unknown (sort of true) to fear of abandonment (again, sort of true). In actuality, research shows that the two innate fears we are born with are a fear of falling and a fear of loud noises. Here’s an interesting article that delves deeper into the science of fear.

In my own development, I’ve become a self-taught expert on fear. Fear has dominated my psyche for the past 46+ years. It is only in the past 6 months or so that I’ve begun to understand — and even occasionally embrace- my fears.

Here’s the #1 thing I’ve learned about fear: it has a root.

There is a root fear that we are taught very early on in our lives. This root fear is embedded in us by early childhood circumstances and conditions. As we grow, this root fear begins to produce tendrils that become elements of our personality, behavior and habits. As we mature, we are able to trace back all current fears to this root fear. And by tracing it back to the root, we are able to master and even harness these fears.

My root fear is a fear of rejection.

Instability, violence, mixed messages fed this fear. And my naturally hyper-sensitive soul took this fear of rejection and amplified it. This fear of rejection lead directly to a constant need for validation; a drive to prove my worth. While this made me incredibility tenacious, it also thwarted a lot of relationships and growth — and robbed me of happiness.

Denying this fear of rejection lead to many years of anxiety, depression and even migraines. But then I discovered this truth: any learned fear can be unlearned.

The process of unlearning the fear of rejection was part of an extensive journey of a spiritual awakening, discovering my mission and deepening the relationships that I value the most.

The secret weapon in the effort to eradicate this root fear was LOVE. Specifically, self-love. By learning to love and accept myself unconditionally, I was able to see past the root fear to my innate value. I learned that this fear of rejection was in direct contrast to an on-board belief in defiance and individualism. No wonder there was depression and anxiety — I was trying to not fear by being someone that I thought would be accepted.

I was able to harness my tenacity, curiosity and openness to focus not on fearing rejection less but on simply loving more. Along the way I learned another truth that I share in every speech I give: no one’s words or actions add to or take away from your value.

I will leave you with this …

I used to hate my root fear. I viewed it as an enemy; a threat to my well being. Now I realize that my root fear is a gift that has spurred me to deeper levels of understanding and higher levels of awareness. Without this root fear, I very likely would have never embarked on the journey to discover the true me.

What is your root fear and how does it influence your life?

My Evolution as a Coach

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I’ve always been a coach. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was the kid that other kids turned to in class for help with homework. I coached my two younger brothers on a variety of things – mostly how to play “good guys vs bad guys” with some level historical accuracy! Even with my initial jobs in high school and after, I was the guy that other employees turned to figure things out.

My journey continued as I began a career in tech sales. I coached my peers – and when promoted to VP of Sales, I still coached them. I viewed myself as a sales coach, not a sales manager. In 2000, I really began to identify as a coach when I began coaching youth football. Something I did for the next 15 years.

In the mid-2000s, I had lost my identity as a coach in my career. I was self-employed as part of a partner team of a small marketing agency. I didn’t do much coaching there because of roles – and frankly – insecurity about my own abilities. It wasn’t until 2006 that I considered monetizing my coaching abilities. That’s when I met Ron Price, a successful executive coach. I found him and his work to be fascinating. He became a mentor and a friend – which he still is to this day.

Then serendipity (or what felt like fate then) happened. Our marketing agency fell apart due to a variety of reasons and I had an opt-in moment. Do I go get a job or finally embrace my coaching skills? I chose to focus on brand coaching. As my career grew as a brand coach through a number of derivatives, I kept pretty much the same coaching methodology that I had carried with me for years. Then I began to evolve.

The evolution (as most of mine are) was slow and messy – with each phase more defined by lessons from failures than new levels of ability. As I began to fully invest in my natural abilities as a coach, I began to understand that my approach was like a grizzly bear opening a box of cereal. I would aggressively tear into clients and friends trying to find the prize inside and triumphantly show it to them.

This approach went on for many years. My skills grew. I began to embrace the power of intuition. I learned to ask better questions. I created repeatable models and methods. But I was still the same kind of coach – not much different than the whistle-wielding football coach. As I began to mature and become more wise as a coach, I realized that my aggressive approach was minimizing my impact. Regardless of how well intentioned my relentlessness was!

In early 2014, I had another inciting incident that propelled my evolution forward. Thanks to an intro from Ron, I had been retained as a brand coach by a behavioral assessment company. I worked closely with their VP of Corporate Communications to craft a proposal and solution for a brand reintroduction. Then I went and did my thing. I ripped open the box of cereal. I aggressively challenged the naysayers in the room. I stridently went after the truth. The next day, after a shorter recap session with her team, the VP of Corporate Communications followed me out to my rental car. I could tell she was agitated and asked what was wrong. “Is this what you do?” she said. “You come in here and blow s**t up and leave?!”.\I was stunned. I said “Yes. That’s what I do.” Her reply, “Nope. You are coming back to help me clean this up.” So I did. Little did I know that a year or so later, Emily Soccorsy, that VP, would become my business partner in Root + River!

Another incident in 2016 lead me to my current evolution as a coach. As I was wont to do, I proactively (and aggressively, of course) began coaching a close friend. I was so relentless to show this friend their potential, what the solution was, what to do, that I almost lost the friendship. It was a huge aha moment to realize that my greatest gift could end relationships. It caused me to reflect on how often I triggered attachment issues, co-dependency and blurred lines with other coaching clients and friends.

I would call this phase of my coaching to be the “Gentle Ben” phase. Rather than rip open the box of cereal. I will show you how to do it for yourself. Rather than crack you open and force myself into your story, I will offer my helping hand as a guide. Rather than proactively project on to you what I think you should do, I ask for permission and provide observations. The aggression is still there. I still wear that virtual whistle around my neck at times. But this approach is what we all strive to reach as coaches: to serve others out of love, not for our own validation.

The Jacob Marley Effect

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Jacob Marley is a character in Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Like his old boss Scrooge, Marley was bitter, greedy and selfish. When he died, he was cursed to wander the earth as a forlorn spirit — eternally cursed by a burden of chains that represented his accumulated sins.

A fun topic for a Friday afternoon, huh!

I bring this up because we all carry around unnecessary chains of suffering and fear. At a minimum, these chains are a distraction from our mission and work. Worst of all, they will slowly drain us of joy and put us in a scarcity state. I’ve been there — sometimes frequently. And it sucks.

It seems as if there are three chains we tend to carry around:

  1. The Chain of External Focus. Constantly reacting to negative emotions triggered in us by other people, conditions and situations. This chain creates a sense of powerlessness, constant agitation and never ending conflicts. It perpetuates the lie that some external change will make us happy.
  2. The Chain of Comparison. Comparing what we are now and what we now believe with what we once were and what we once believed. Or combining with the Chain of External Focus to compare ourselves to others- producing either self-loathing or self-righteousness. This is especially true if we were taught an ideal that doesn’t match our actual beliefs.
  3. The Chain of Expectations. Attaching our happiness, peace, well being to future outcomes- especially based on other people’s behavior. This also typically means striving to live up to the expectations of others in a way that robs you of your sovereignty and identity. Attachment to outcomes and expectations rob us of finding any sort of joy in the present moment.

The good news is that these chains are entirely optional because we are all given the keys to unlock them and cast them aside. Here are a few:

  • accept that every negative emotion is there to teach us something about ourselves.
  • Be 100% accountable for your reactions. And 100% let go of how others react to you.
  • Stay rooted in intrinsic focuses such as faith, self-love and/or mission.

These keys can be accessed through Cognitive Brain Therapy (CBT), guided meditation, and for those so inclined, by prayer.

So why wouldn’t we cast aside these chains? Sadly, suffering can become our identity. Suffering provides us a false sense of meaning and gives us the role in our story of “victim”. The chains become part of who we think we are and the idea of setting them aside to be free and happy is terrifying.

Thankfully, Jacob Marley is just a character in a timeless story. It doesn’t have to be our part in life regardless of our pasts.


5 Ways to Be Miserable

By Leadership, Self-WorthNo Comments

The above image is from the bathroom scene in “Liar, Liar” — the last Jim Carrey movie to actually be funny. Here’s the clip of the scene. If you don’t want to spend 3 minutes laughing, the money line is this: “I’m kicking my ass. Do ya mind!?”

With that headline and clip, this post may seem like I’m in a dark mood. I’m not. I’m actually optimistic and hopeful you can actually learn to stop kicking your own ass by reverse engineering behaviors and mindsets that cause misery. In short, by dismantling suffering, you can create happiness.

Here are 5 ways to be miserable (and 5 things to do instead):

  1. Systemic Beliefs: These are beliefs taught to you by someone else — parents, teachers, churches, politicians, celebrities, bosses. They’ve all poured beliefs into you that were intended to shape in you a some way. Usually in the form of religious or political doctrine. Don Miguel Ruiz, Jr refers to this as “domestication”. Systemic beliefs cause misery because they aren’t actually your beliefs. This triggers comparison (see below) and induces a stream of guilt and shame. And the ego gets addicted to guilt and shame like the body gets addicted to sugar. Besides guilt and shame, the surest sign of systemic beliefs is stunted spiritual growth. So do this instead: understand your Intrinsic Beliefs. These are the beliefs that you’ve always known to be true. They weren’t taught to you. They are also beliefs revealed to you through a spiritual journey or transformation. You will find that these intrinsic beliefs are guideposts for your mission and purpose.
  2. Extrinsic Obsession: This is my term for having attachment issues; of attaching your happiness, self-worth and value to people and outside conditions. This is the root of materialism and the cause of the rampant addiction to comfort and ease. When combined with systemic beliefs, it becomes a dark voice that says “You aren’t enough. You don’t have enough”. It is also the root of creating additional suffering through already difficult times. Extrinsic obsession robs you of your power of choice over your perspective. Concentration camp survivor and author Viktor Frankl says this: Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Frankl offers us an alternative to extrinsic obsession: Intrinsic Focus. This is focusing on the things you have actual power over: mindset, words, reactions and the most powerful tool, breathing.
  3. Lack of Self-Care: This corrosive habit comes in many forms — lack of care for the body, mind, soul and heart. Usually under the auspices of not wishing to appear selfish (extrinsic obsession!). So many people go about quietly kicking their own asses by poor nutrition, lack of exercise, not settling the mind, addiction to technology, lack of sleep, pretense in relationships and many more. They slowly empty out and never take action to fill back up. This puts the ego in charge and creates a near-constant mindset of scarcity and survival. There are thousands of ways to do this differently, but I will give you three you can do every day: 1) Spend 5–15 minutes in solitude. This doesn’t include your car ride to work. 2) Eat clean. You will be amazed about how much better you will feel. 3) Move. Walk, yoga, lift weights — just move.
  4. Comparison: The meaner cousin to assumptions, comparison conspires with all of the above to put you in a constant state of benchmarking yourself against others. Comparison is so powerful it is the #1 advertising manipulation tool. But when left unchecked, it wrecks careers, relationships and identities. Other than values mis-alignment, I also believe it is the root of most conflict. Consider a recent spat you had with a partner or co-worker. Chances are high that it was because one or both of you were in comparison mode. The opposite of comparison is Standards. These are an internal set of expectations for performance and quality — without all the guilt, shame and doubt. Standards allow you to set success points for growth to trigger accomplishment and increased self-worth. Standards teach you what to say yes or no to. They teach you discipline, discernment and healthy detachment.
  5. Trying Too Hard: This might be the summation of the first four, but it feels like a stand-alone misery trigger. This is primarily an issue with over-achievers who are trying to feed the soul through frenetic activity. More, more, more! Go, go, go! It’s a striving to make things exactly how we want them to be. Yet despite all the effort and busy-ness, nothing ever turns out the way that we planned. And if it does, we aren’t really happy because in trying too hard, success, joy and situations becoming manufactured not discovered. I’m not saying you should stop trying. I’m saying there are better ways to use all that energy. The antidote to trying too hard is Taking Action. This is a simple planning and execution exercise: set a short-term measurable, achievable and reasonable goal then determine the next 5 actions (not activities) that you are going to take. Then do them and start another next 5. Of course you will have work, life and self maintenance, but these next 5 are the ONLY thing to focus on as it relates to effort.

The lesson from all of this is that MISERY IS OPTIONAL. It has nothing to do with other people, outside conditions, our past, who is President, who is not President, who did or did not win the Super Bowl. By understanding that misery is optional, we can learn that we control the human app. It doesn’t control us. And we when control it, we learn that this very moment contains everything we need to be happy.