From a Little Breakdown to a Big Breakthrough

When you undertake a course of self-discovery and personal growth, there’s a sneaky idea that can take root and get under your skin.

It’s the idea that once you learn an understanding that helps you connect with your wellbeing, you’re not supposed to feel bad anymore.

I didn’t even notice I was thinking that. A recent realization helped me see through that misconception, and opened me up to a world of greater peace and acceptance.

Seeing the source makes all the difference

I’ve been learning about the Three Principles behind human experience, which describe whence our experience comes. They can have a magical effect on a student. By understanding the source of our happiness, pain, and intuition, we no longer blame things that aren’t the real cause. That allows us to naturally align with that source, and helps problems and pain drop away without exerting effort to make it happen.

This made a major difference for me, and implicitly or explicitly, it’s what I talk about in most of my posts.

However, after some “successes” that came from this unlearning, I noticed that I would start to get nervous when I experienced problems, pain, and confusion.

That’s because unconsciously, I was thinking, “Wait, I know the Three Principles. I’m not supposed to have problems anymore. How can I apply them? How can I use them to make this go away?”

This created a concoction of blame and anxiety, which was what made my experience go from just having a problem to actual suffering.

The promise of learning about our true nature and the source of our experience is not that we’ll stop being human beings who run into challenges. It’s that we’ll stop the thinking, fretting, and fixing that takes that normal experience and makes it dramatic and awful. That’s what I would argue suffering is–not having problems, but being had by our problems.

Even when we learn a philosophy that illuminates this, we’ll still suffer. But the crucial difference is that over time, we suffer less deeply, and not have it last as long.

Breakup → Breakdown →Breakthrough

I am a veteran of serious breakups.

I recently went through a significant breakup of a long and important relationship. In the past, breakups have launched me into bouts of anxiety and depression. This time, I saw the potential for that to happen–but I caught it early.

What made all the difference was when I had some normal, expected feelings of sadness and loneliness, and then started to think, “oh no, what if this turns into a really bad depression? What if everything falls apart? What if I don’t feel OK alone? What if this is a YUGE mistake?”

These were horrible thoughts. For a minute, I believed them. I experienced the scary reality that believing them brought. The situation went from a natural situation to suffering when I started to think that the bad feelings won’t pass, or when I got scared of my bad feelings.

Thankfully, some part of me saw that they were just scary thoughts and not necessarily true, so I didn’t have think them.

That was major. That prevented a natural, healthy mourning, from going into an episode of real suffering.

It’s not what we think but that we think

Having seen the freedom that this consciousness can bring, I noticed myself expecting not to experience internal problems anymore. I would then think about how to wield my understanding as a powerful force to slash down my problems.

Since that’s not how it works, that thought created suffering in the form of blame and anxiety.

And by the way, this applies to everyone, regardless of whether you’re a Three Principles student like me. Any thought that tells you that you’re not supposed to feel what you’re feeling will cause the same tension I experienced.

One recent night, lying in bed before I fell asleep, I noticed that the very thought that I needed to “apply the Three Principles” was an anxious thought. The anxious thought was making me suffer, even though it was disguised as a thought that was supposed to alleviate my suffering.

It’s important not to work with the content of thought but to see the experience that thinking brings.

When I saw this, I caught a glimpse of the real source of my bad experience. Then the troublesome thought that I wasn’t supposed to have problems fell away.

I calmed down and felt peace instantly, because it’s not the problem that’s a problem, but the thinking we create around it.

You can have whatever problem you like, but it does not correlate with suffering.

We’re not supposed to stop having problems. Our consciousness has the potential to rise so that at times, we don’t recognize the things that usually trouble us. We’ll dip back into a lower consciousness again, because that’s the human experience. But when we do, having seen the possibility that our problems aren’t quite as solid and intractable as they seem, we can stop doing the things that keep us stuck in the muck of low moods.

We’ll continue to have challenges, and we’ll even continue to suffer.

And the more we see that challenges do not equal suffering–the more we see that suffering is an experience of our thinking–the more we see that problems come and go as our thinking busies and slows–the more we free ourselves.

We free ourselves to not fear the varied range of human experience, and truly know that we can be OK regardless of what happens.

If I’m honest with myself, I wouldn’t want a life free from negative emotions like sadness or fear. They are a part of the rich tapestry of life as a human. And that’s what’s on offer for us–being able to feel the rainbow of emotions, and know that all of it is OK. It makes the joy, the camaraderie, the intimacy, and the love all the deeper.

The difference between happiness and Happiness

I’m a big fan of using lowercase or capital letters to make the same word have different meanings.

I’m at it again–this time with happiness. A common myth is that we can or should feel happy all the time. But is it possible to feel Happy all the time?

Who cares about happiness?

Literally everyone wants happiness. It could be seen as the aim of every human act. Every one of us is moving towards pleasure and away from pain.

Happiness is the reason we try self-improvement. It’s the reason we cook nice meals. It’s why we love to love. It’s why we give gifts on Christmas. It’s why wake up each day to go through our routine. It’s even the connected to the reason we hate and hurt. We all seek it, wisely or blindly.

Leveling up

Parts of our culture communicate that we should, we deserve to, we’re supposed to, we CAN, be happy all the time.

Movies, the Facebook Newsfeed, and much of the self-help world imply that we can live in a state of bliss. And since that option is apparently out there, if we’re trying to improve ourselves and AREN’T happy all the time, it means we’re doing something wrong. This makes us even more unhappy.

“Those who value the pursuit of happiness … are more likely to be lonely – a characteristic that is closely linked to depression.”Tal Ben-Shahar, Harvard professor, global authority on positive psychology

Tal_Ben_ShaharWow. That’s a powerful quote with powerful implications. Let’s unpack it.

We can understand the statement “you can be happy all the time” on two levels.

Level 1: You can feel just happiness all the time.

Level 2: You can feel any emotion, but feel peace underneath it. This is a deeper happiness. Level 2 is the space in which the Level 1 emotions occur. It is the underlying tone for the overt emotions. It’s how we feel about how we’re feeling.

Common sense and observation shows us that “you can be happy all the time” is patently false on Level 1. It would be sort of weird and robotic if we felt only happiness.

Happiness would cease to have any meaning whatsoever if we had no other feelings with which to contrast it. And on top of that, when we really examine it, would we actually want to live a life in which we felt nothing but happiness? Isn’t the diversity of experience and emotion in which we can participate what makes life rich?

I point this out because we can labor under the false assumption that we’re supposed to be happy all the time. Do you know how much stress this ironically causes? It creates an inner war. (Definitely speaking from personal experience here.) It makes us feel wrong when we don’t feel good. And when the Level 2 emotion is shame or guilt, on top of feeling upset or sad—that’s a potent mixture for a pretty miserable day.

The human experience

There is a pretty fantastic experience of life available to each of us at every moment. That possibility is to feel any part of the entire range of human emotion and be completely OK with any of it.

It’s kind of like this quote:

“Develop a mind that is vast like the water, where experiences both pleasant and unpleasant can appear and disappear without conflict, struggle, or harm. Rest in a mind like vast water.” — the Buddha (supposedly)

Some of the worst emotional experiences occur when this possibility creates a negative experience. We feel an emotion (Level 1), and then we create a terrible, momentous meaning about that emotion (Level 2). It’s the feeling about how we’re feeling. For example, we feel sad and then feel shameful about our sadness. This might lead to bleakness or depression. Or we feel worried about something, and feel that we shouldn’t worry and try to avoid thinking about it. This might lead to anxiety.

There is also the opposite possibility. You could feel sad, and have it mean something positive.

Or there’s another option, which in my opinion is the best yet: we could see that whatever meaning we have around our feelings is how we experience them.kartini

Being sad could mean nothing. It just means we’re sad. When it’s like that–a sort of “pure” sadness–it arises, and then does what all moods and emotions do naturally: go away.

This is how children feel emotion. They’ll be really pissed at a kid for stealing a toy, skip over the part where they have a self-judgment about how pissed they feel, and five minutes later forget about it and play with that very same thief.

This is why Buddhists practice mindfulness meditation. Neurologically speaking, it has been shown to strengthen parts of the brain that tune into joy, and make us more resilient to stress or grief.

And mindfulness is all about–maybe even synonymous with–Happiness (as opposed to happiness). It’s about cultivating awareness that our thoughts and emotions are always coming and going. It’s about resting in a place where whatever emotional experience we’re having, we can stop fighting it and accept it.

In this place, anything we feel is OK because it is occurring within a space of peace. That’s Happiness.

One clarification

When I said that Level 2 consists of the meaning around our emotions, it could sound like it’s our JOB to change the meaning we’ve made, or that it’s our FAULT if we have a meaning that doesn’t serve us.

Notice that this would be more of the same trap that catches us in painful emotional experiences in the first place. Coming to peace with emotions at Level 2 is about getting out of our own way and doing less. A lot of our pain comes from thinking it’s up to US to bring in good emotions. And our pain comes from trying to DO things with emotions like FIX them. So “do” the opposite–not doing. Just keep that awareness of what’s going on. And know that the way out is through. That’s mindfulness. That allows emotions arise and pass.

If emotions come from our thoughts, it’s sensible to want to change our thoughts. But that is really hard and abstract, usually doesn’t work, and also isn’t necessary.

In the happiness that we all truly want, the kind that is possible almost (I say “almost” to be realistic) all the time–Level 2 Happiness–you’re OK with whatever emotion you’re feeling on the surface.

So let’s not bother with the surface. On a day to day basis, you’ll feel what you’ll feel. The most beautiful possibility I can think of, though, is that we can be completely at peace feeling whatever we’re feeling.

Why Others’ Wisdom Reflects Yours Back To You

The only place any person can discover wisdom is in themselves. So when anyone claims to have wisdom, it’s their wisdom. And when you hear it, it activates YOUR wisdom.

Anything that sounds wise, or has the appearance of wisdom, is a reflection of your wisdom. The power that exists in wise-sounding words has nothing to do with the words, and everything to do with YOU. The power of those words is whatever feeling they enliven, or space they awaken, in YOU.

Wise-sounding words can facilitate insight in us. They can come in the right place at the right time. And they work because they point you to wisdom you have inside of you.

Most of us have experienced this: you hear a truism time and time again, and think yeah yeah, I know that. It sounds like any of the other advice that is available to us all day, every day. But then, when the conditions are just right, you hear it in a new way, and it clicks like it never had before. You feel it in your gut, and your soul, and you know that you understand it now.

The advice was equally “true” each time you heard it. The difference is that you were in a place of openness to receive its message.

The source of the good feelings that wisdom brings is in us, not the words.

Zen Masters

True wisdom can never be spoken. Even if a teacher you know and trust says something wise, don’t accept or believe it. See if it is true for yourself. If you resonate with their words, then you know it has struck a chord of truth in you. That way, you’re living your own wisdom instead of someone else’s.

Zen masters know that words are just signposts to the truth. This explains their highly idiosyncratic methods of awakening students to their enlightenment.



For example, a Zen student comes to a master, dreamy-eyed, and says, “Master, I understand! I know that the body and the ego are not real. I know that my essence is neither.”

Then the master whacks the student in the forehead with a stick of bamboo and says, “Was that real?”

Or, since they know that wise words and stupid words are equally untrue, they deliberately tell their students falsehoods. Their intention is not to mislead the students but to intensify the illusions under which they operate, so they can more quickly be shattered.

The master brings the student in to his quarters. They both sit cross-legged from each other. The master tells the student she must do something spontaneous.

This is a nonsense request. She must do something spontaneous… but not do it because she was told to…? How? It is a double bind–you can’t try to be spontaneous. The student wrestles with this challenge not just in that meeting but throughout her Zen training.

Eventually she reaches a point where she realizes the point of contention in that challenge is the “her” caught between following instruction and being spontaneous. She sees that there’s no way she can’t be spontaneous, even in her dead-end struggle of trying to be spontaneous. She was spontaneously struggling. Freed from the illusion of a self separate from her experience, separate from itself, she is out of her own way, and has an enlightening insight.

Alan and an overzealous fan.

Alan and an overzealous fan.

It’s also why Alan Watts, in his classes, would go on for a long time talking about reality, and then say, “nothing I can possibly say about reality is correct. Reality is–” and then ring a gong.

It’s why the Buddha gave a sermon that consisted of him holding up a flower to a crowd of monks. All of them sat there confused–all except one, named Mahakasyapa, who smiled. The Buddha saw this and named him as his successor.

Each of these stories indicate that the truth and wisdom we seekers are seeking is unaffiliated with words.

More than just wisdom

Wisdom is something each of us has within.

We access it when the mind gets a bit quieter. It can come to us in an epiphany or in the form of ordinary common sense.

Wisdom isn’t the only thing we’ve got in us though.

Wisdom is part of the overall package we have as our default gifts. And the other things–they’re not bad either. They’re also accessed when we allow the mind to settle down a bit.

“What else do we have?!?”

I’m glad you asked.

The best way to answer what else we have is by asking you: what do you want?

Because literally whatever you want, you already have.

As an innate gift.

A basic default setting of the soul.

Chances are, this sounds a bit counterintuitive.

We are taught, first of all, that things bring feelings. And last time I checked I didn’t have an Tesla Model S Sedan as an innate gift inside me, and I don’t feel like a boss like I would with the Tesla so…. I do need the thing.

But we never experience the Tesla itself. We experience whatever we think about it. When you first get it, you think, holy crap, I have a Tesla, this is sick! But soon that will wear off, and it’ll just feel like your car. The good news, though, is that whatever it is you’re really looking for by having the Tesla, you already have. And that won’t fade with time.

We are taught that wanting things is right, and it’s what everyone does. It’s the way to have feelings we want, like happiness.

But it’s not.

Here’s another example.

Some people want to be famous. Often, that wish expresses a desire for validation and admiration.

Related to that is a desire for lots and lots of money.

We are shown, taught, and encouraged to believe that having a certain amount of money will make us feel good. Life will be easier, we’ll be more relaxed, we can eat at luxurious restaurants, take luxurious vacations, hang out with other rich, intriguing people. We’ll be glamorous and life will be awesome.

Well, examples abound that THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENS. How many celebrities can you name right now that have breakdowns in the public eye? They’re not happy.

South of me is one of the richest counties in the country, and people there are just as unhappy as people in the county north of me, which is poorer than average.

Coast of Italy? No. Marin County, California

Coast of Italy? No. Marin County, California

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money, being famous, or owning a Tesla. I’m not against them.

But those things are insidious if riches, fame, and environmentally-safe cars were supposed to be your magic bullets that were going to finally make you feel fulfilled.

(It happens on a smaller scale too. Some of us are humble. We think, I just want to have a stable income, enough for a fancy dinner every often, and not have to stress about bills or expenses. Once I get there–then I can relax.)

The truth is that (and don’t believe me, explore it for yourself!) we can have all of those feelings without any of those things. You can feel luxurious sitting outside on a spring evening with a microwave dinner as the sun sets.

You can feel ease and relaxation whether you make $20,000 or $200,000 a year.

You can give yourself the admiration and validation that will always be fickle if you depend on the outside world to give them to you.

The secret is knowing that they come from inside you, and exist regardless of circumstance.

And ironically, it can be easier to achieve those lofty material goals when you’re coming from the knowing that whether or not you achieve them, you’re blessed, you’ll be fine. Then it’s like we’re playing with the house’s money. Then we can be fearless and not care if we fail. Then we’re playing with the universal wind in our sails.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’m going to give another example, because it’s extremely common in our culture.

The magical fairy tale romance/marriage.

It’s a myth peddled by Hollywood and perpetuated by our imaginations.

We love to imagine a special person coming along and making our lives marvelous. They’ll bring security, wellbeing, excitement. They’ll make you feel cherished and loved.

Yet, as common and cliche as it is, we have to first love ourselves, feel secure in ourselves, and produce our own wellbeing, before we can coexist happily with a partner. Then we avoid putting all kinds of expectations on them like being our source of wellbeing and happiness. We have to first marry ourselves before we marry another.

If you’re looking for wisdom, for happiness, for ease, for peace, turn your attention inwards. Save yourself the struggle and suffering of a false path.

One caveat

There are no rules.

As long as you don’t forget where your wellbeing comes from, you can pursue whatever you want within the world of form. The material world is, after all here for our enjoyment! I’m definitely not recommending that we all drop our earthly pursuits to meditate and chant all day.

I hope to convey that whatever those earthly pursuits are, you can pursue them with a bit more lightness, a bit more jazz, a bit more peace and contentment, by shifting your focus slightly.

Well actually, 180 degrees. From the outside to the inside.

PS — I know I’ve fallen into the trap of feeling I need a certain amount of savings or monthly income before I can feel secure and stable. Has this, or anything similar, happened to you? Let me know in the comments section!

Stop Being Productive

Productivity is toxic. Productivity is a plague.

Our culture prides itself on being productive. We love it. The internet offers advice on everything from time management and helpful apps to the inner mindset of productivity. We prize anything that makes us more productive—Adderall, coffee, energy drinks, etc.

We all want to do more, produce more, and have more as a result.

Is there a downside to that emphasis?

I once talked to a client who had become so used to the idea of needing to be productive that she couldn’t enjoy a moment of silence or stillness.

And I saw myself in her.

It reminds me of a situation in college that was all too common: stressed out kids working like crazy during the week, and then indulging in unhealthy and excessive drinking on the weekend in order to forget it all. Not saying I didn’t do it, but I’m also not saying it was healthy.

Have you ever gotten really motivated to take on a project, maintained a high level of productivity for a few days, and then burned out? The twinkle fades. The spark dims.

That has happened to me and everyone else I know. When the project dies, sometimes the nagging impulse towards productivity lives on.

That thought is hell. In our obsession with productivity, we morph into robots attempting to optimize everything. That compulsion doesn’t turn off when we finish the day’s work, when it’s the weekend, or when we’re hanging with friends. We can’t fully relax into them because we feel guilty that we’re not being productive.

In the evening, we feel anxiety. Going to sleep, we feel restless.

We constantly feel compelled to be doing. But when we try to create from this state, we’re burnt out, and the quality of our work suffers.

It’s unpleasant, isn’t it?

But there are ways to stop the madness.

I’ve noticed that in my most successful, sustainable, and enjoyable projects, I somehow completely ignore productivity. I don’t need to try to be productive, and never feel like I need to produce more than comes out naturally.

There are three alternatives to productivity that help me get the project done anyway.

These are not ways to become more productive. They’re different strategies entirely. They make productivity obsolete.


Let’s balance our work with play.

Play is a magical concept that involves doing something for no other justification than the activity itself. This sounds revolutionary to someone in a state of compulsive, zombie-like productivity. It might also be majorly uncomfortable at first, like a righty using her left hand to brush her teeth.

And it is so worth it.

It’s refreshing. And most of all, it breaks the vortex of productivity that consumes us.

For me, running is play. Running, I’ve realized, is something I do for no other reason than to run. No one does it with me. No one sees me finish. When I run extra fast or far, there’s no glory in it, no one standing there congratulating me. It doesn’t benefit anyone else. It doesn’t improve me. It doesn’t even feel good. I just do it for me.

Everyone has something like that. What’s yours? Do it this weekend.

When you’re able to balance your life by playing more, whatever you do when you actually need to be doing will flow out without quite as much friction.

What can you do just to do, and not care about results or rewards?

Not Production, Creation

Productivity is robotic. Creativity is whimsical. Production is machinelike. Creation is godlike. Producing is draining. Creating is energizing.

When we tap into our source of creativity, entirely different things come out. We’re all connected to a universal source of creativity, all the time. You know how it feels when you’re in the flow of creation? Whatever is coming out doesn’t feel like it’s coming from you, it feels like it’s coming through you. In other words, in our most creative state, we are completely out of our own way.

We can tap into that source anytime. The first step is acknowledging that it’s there.

The next part is seeing that the only reason we don’t use it all the time is because we think our way out of it. Our heads are so full of our plans, our responsibilities, our relationships, our impulses. Most of us are constantly thinking. But when we’re truly in the flow of creation, it’s possible because our minds have quieted down a bit. They’ve been emptied of some of the trash that was in them. And this quiet, this space, makes way for new things (aka creation) to come in.

If our heads are spinning with thought, you might be thinking, how do we calm them down? Well, when you’re driving your car, how do you get your RPMs to slow down?

Take your foot off the gas.

The best thing to quiet the mind is to stop trying to quiet the mind. Then the natural intelligence takes over and we might just see something new.

Beyond Motivation—The Most Powerful Practice of All

Productivity requires motivation. And that always runs out. Motivation leaves because it is a mood, and that’s what moods do.

So screw motivation.

Because that fire eventually simmers, you take the path of discipline.

There’s a beautiful quote about writer’s block that I think of often:

“I only write when inspiration strikes. Thankfully it strikes every morning at 9am sharp.”

Some artists think that making art is a fanciful process. A luxurious romp into the imagination. They wait until the divine lightning of inspiration electrifies them, and then create a beautiful piece. And then they wait for it to happen again, and five months later, nothing else has come out.

That’s not how master artists work. Mozart was the most disciplined dude who ever lived. The best writers don’t wait until they’re inspired. They sit down and they write. Everyday. That’s why they get to call themselves writers.

The word for discipline over time is commitment.

When you’re committed, there’s no question or debate about whether you’re going to do the thing you said you were going to do.

When you’re committed, things line up favorably for you by sheer magnetism. Your unflinching consistency signals to the universe that you are moving, and it makes way for you.

This is the message of The War of Art, which any aspiring creator must must MUST read. To Steven Pressfield, commitment is what he calls Turning Pro. That’s the ultimate counter to the Resistance that stops us from doing our work.

Why am I attacking productivity?

Because it is a beguiling demon whose charms we must resist.

People who are productive aren’t productive because they try to be productive. They make it look like output is their objective. All of us who pursue techniques and strategies to become more productive work from the outside in. People who produce a lot do it because they work from a level of commitment and creativity that seems superhuman.

It is. And we have that option too.

When we move into the realm of discipline and commitment, we are no longer human. An otherworldly wind blows through us and uses us to create something, and let’s us put our name on it, ’cause it’s generous like that.

We can forget about productivity. It makes us automatons. We don’t need any more of those in this world! We need more people who are alive, vibrant, and engaged. Creating from their souls and pursuing their passions. People putting happiness over money. And creation over production.

Why Failure is a Mirage

“How much are you willing to suck?”

This was the response I heard recently when a student asked a master coach how to start his coaching business.

As it turns out, that question is much more relevant than I initially thought.

Well, how much?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that 99% of people don’t feel that they’re living up to their potential.

Almost everyone I talk to feels that they’re not where they want to be. We envision great things for ourselves. We feel that we have much to give and share with the world.

And one of the biggest things that keeps people from stepping off the path of conventional expectations, and onto the path of their dreams, is fear of failure.

I know this fear. I know it well. Following a dream requires getting uncomfortable. It requires stepping into the unknown. It requires showing people a side of ourselves that they might not know—the side that is dissatisfied with the way things are, with a boring job and mediocrity in our days, and yearns for something more. And we have to battle with sneaky demons inside ourselves, such as discovering that deep down we don’t think we’re worthy of our dreams.

Each of those things could be a post—nay, a book—unto itself. But I want to discuss how the fear of failing holds us back. The fear of sucking. And I want to talk about a few tiny shifts in perspective that can erase that fear.

Failing is false

I wrote an article for the Huffington Post that describes why the Facebook Newsfeed is a false representation of reality. People only really post stuff about their lives that is happy, impressive, or funny. We don’t see all the junk in between.

Failure is like the junk that never makes it onto a Facebook Newsfeed.

Look, a failure in progress!

Look, a failure in progress!

Here’s an example. You’re reading this article that I’ve worked hard on and polished. What you’ll never see is that I sat down to write this article yesterday, and nothing came out. I hit dead ends and mostly backspaced for an hour and then stopped. That was a failure.

But you’ll never see that. We don’t hear about Thomas Edison’s supposed 1000 failures at creating the light bulb because our world isn’t littered with light bulbs at a ratio of 1000 nonfunctional ones to 1 functional one. (Can you imagine how much that one would cost?) No. We only see working light bulbs. We only see his success. Which happened 0.1% of the time.

Hemingway said that he’d write 99 pages of crap for every 1 good page he wrote. So 99% of the writing of one of the greatest writers of the 1900s was apparently worthless.

Do you know how many paintings Picasso made? About 13,500. Do you know how many Picasso paintings people talk about? Like 10.

If Picasso held himself to the standard that everything he created had to be a masterpiece, he might have become so discouraged early on that we wouldn’t have even gotten the 10 masterpieces he made. We might not even know who Picasso was.

So again I ask you, how much are you willing to suck?

The products that populate the world are people’s successes.

If only we could see every failure that led to that success, we’d think of failure and success as inseparable. And we wouldn’t think of one as evil and the other as good.

The nature of failure creates the skewed perception that failure is rare. Or that people we admire don’t do it. And if we want to emulate the people we admire, we can’t fail. Failure then becomes shameful. It takes on a meaning about us: we weren’t good enough. We don’t belong, we’re unlovable, we’re flawed.

Well, now that failure has turned to an epic event that means epic things about us, we’ve pretty much set ourselves up to fail!

(Which is perfectly OK.)

This is why it makes sense to think of failure as a mirage. It looks really real, but it’s not quite as real as we think.

Failure is common. It is necessary. Everyone does it. And moreover, anyone who has ever accomplished anything monumental has usually failed at least as big.

So just go try something. You’ll probably fail. That’s cool.

Seeing it differently

When you glimpse the real nature of failure not as something terrible or meaningful about you, it ceases to be so scary. When you see it as part of the continuum of success, the word failure has pretty much lost its meaning.

I mentioned that yesterday I sat down to try to write this article and nothing came out. I actually think that failure directly led to the eventual success of finishing and publishing this article.

The failure cleared my head of a jumble of nonsense that wasn’t coherent. I tried, and tried, and tried, and nothing came out that was any good. At that point, a certain IDGAF attitude comes over you. It’s like, you have nothing to lose because you already lost. And boom. Your head is clear. And when your head is clear you’re connected to the source of creativity, which is perfect for writing articles.

When you’re hiking a mountain, and you start at the bottom, do you consider each step a failure until you reach the summit? No. You consider them necessary to get you there.

What if you saw the creative process, or the entrepreneurial process, or any process, that way? What if each little failure is a teaching moment that gets you more perfectly primed to achieve the success you’re looking for? We could not only accept failure, but see it as a great teacher. It could be a gift.

We then uncover a magical quality called faith that gets us through the darkest of storms.

I still feel like a failure after most coaching sessions I give. Thankfully, I love coaching enough that I just keep doing it anyway. And also thankfully, the clients I speak with usually don’t consider the call a failure. I know it’s just my overactive imagination.

What’s one area where you’re willing to fail spectacularly to clear the way for your success? Tell me about it in the comment section. Misery loves company :) And if you enjoyed this article, I’d love it if you subscribed to stay connected or shared it with a friend to deepen the impact it can have.

Peace and love,


How We Think Ourselves Out of Confidence


Confidence likes to play coy.

The more you woo it, the more your efforts will feel futile and go unrewarded.

But when you pause, reflect, and wait, confidence might just come seeking you.

The struggle

If you have struggled with self-esteem, self-worth, or happiness, you definitely understand how great confidence feels. People like us really want confidence. It’s impossible to feel inadequate and small when feeling confident. It helps socially, it helps professionally, it helps personally. It helps with decisions, performance, romance, you name it.

Given how dramatic its effect can be, it’s only natural that we would try to gain confidence. This has the potential to be the starting point for a better life. It can also be the starting point for a huge amount of misunderstanding, which can take us even further away from it.

Most self-help strategies create misunderstanding. They imply that confidence is something out there, and they’ll agree that we don’t currently have it. But thankfully we can go get it. We can follow steps, reprogram beliefs, read the Huffington Post, and manipulate our minds to the point where confidence gets instilled in us.

Orrrrrrr not.

Because that doesn’t really work. Or to be more clear, it doesn’t work when we think the steps and new beliefs cause the confidence.

There’s another way. A way that actually works, sustainably. And the reason it works is because it reflects a basic truth about humans.

We are innately confident. It is our natural state. It’s who we are, deep down, all the time.

We can forget and think our way out of it. (Thinking is the only thing that can take us out of it—more on that later.)

So when any ploy to make you confident doesn’t awaken your innate confidence, it’s bound to be short-lived and unsustainable.

New beliefs and habits can’t create lasting confidence if you think they cause confidence. That’s because you also believe that confidence came from something you didn’t already have.

But real confidence always, and only, comes from what’s already inside us.

Confidence is not the addition, but the absence of something.

It comes forth naturally when we are free of insecure thinking and self-doubt. It feels like flow. And we are automatically in flow, feelin’ good, when we’re not thinking and analyzing.

OK, enough abstraction. Here’s a story that demonstrates what I’m talking about.

You can’t get enough of what you don’t really need

I went through a simple transformation recently around public speaking.

I used to feel that I was an awful public speaker. I didn’t feel comfortable with everyone’s eyes on me. It made me extremely nervous. I couldn’t be myself, let alone do what naturals do like make jokes and engage the audience.

Without explicitly thinking it, what I was looking for was confidence in public speaking situations.

Over the years many opportunities arose to give presentations and speak to groups. I slowly improved. Today, I don’t get nervous before speaking in front of groups. I feel more comfortable improvising, and I can crack the occasional funny.

However, until recently, I still felt awkward public speaking. I didn’t feel like I was a natural or that it comes easily despite an increase in my skill level. My experience was still one of unconfidence.

But something interesting happened when I asked a friend what he thought of my public speaking.

“You were great,” he said. He told me I looked polished and confident, that I had a powerful presence.

That was almost funny to me, because it was so different from how I felt.

He was saying that it looked like I had achieved the confidence I originally sought.

But somehow, my thoughts about my performance hadn’t caught up with my actual behavioral improvement.

When I was told that my public speaking was effective, it had a helpful effect. I gave myself permission to see myself as a good speaker.

And what happened next was most intriguing—all of a sudden, I felt like a good public speaker.

The next time I gave a presentation, I actually felt good. I felt confident.

My skill at public speaking hadn’t changed at all between those presentations. But how I thought of myself as a speaker did a 180.

What I was looking for the entire time wasn’t located in different behavior. My public speaking skill had changed. My thoughts hadn’t changed with it. What mattered–the goal I was pursuing the whole time–was the point at which I felt like a good public speaker. And this came when my thoughts changed.

I went from being unconfident to confident quickly. In the course of a few minutes. And it had nothing to do with changing, improving, practicing, or reprogramming.

It’s simpler than it looks

I’d like to suggest that you don’t have to become confident. You just have to see the source of confidence. When you really see it, you can’t unsee it. Your thoughts align with it, and then you feel confident.

Don’t try to change your thoughts into confident thoughts. Although ironically, confident thoughts are what you’ll have when you’re confident. But we shouldn’t work on the level of thoughts, because our confidence is present before thought. When I say that our natural state is confidence, I mean prior to any personal thinking, we are completely, flawlessly confident. And that’s what we’re trying to access.

So don’t change your thoughts. Just see that your thoughts determine whether or not you feel confident.

Any time you don’t feel confident, notice what you’re thinking. I guarantee it will be negative or unconfident thoughts.

We are confident, underneath whatever ideas we have about why we’re not.

In coaching

What I love about coaching in this area is that the same transformation that occurred in me in a matter of minutes is available to everyone, at any time. A lot of traditional coaching would work on doing things that make the client feel confident, gaining awareness about what confidence is like for them, and working on destructive habits that make them less confident.

But in my field of coaching we don’t have to do that. We talk about things that bring about transformation. What causes transformation is an insight—another word for fresh thought.

I know that whomever I speak to is confident deep down. Since that’s the case, it can emerge any second. And it’s most likely to emerge when we raise our consciousness about where it comes from and how we think ourselves out of it.

No techniques necessary. No years of hard work. No ingraining new beliefs and disengaging from harmful ones.

Just seeing the truth.

Connect more deeply

Do you have a story of a time when something triggered a slight shift in your consciousness that led to greater confidence? I’d love to hear about it. Drop a comment below. And if you liked this article, subscribe for more weekly goodness :)



Does anyone have a good hangover cure?

Everyone is hiding something. That’s why it feels great to get naked.

I don’t mean physically naked. I mean there’s nothing wrong with that either, so go for it if that’s what you’re into.

I’m talking emotionally, spiritually, psychologically naked. There’s a word for it that’s in vogue right now: vulnerability.

Vulnerability has magical powers. It makes us feel connected to others. It alleviates shame. It makes us feel powerful. It gives us purpose and meaning. It improves our relationships. I encourage you to try it.

The internet is full of reasons why being vulnerable is great. I’d like to talk about something different–what happens after you get vulnerable. The “dark side” of vulnerability.


My experience

I’m trying to grow a coaching business from scratch. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m hoping to share some of my most transformative and profound experiences and use them to serve others. I’m standing up and saying hey world, looky here. I’ve got something worthwhile to share.

So, over the last month or so, I have shared articles, videos, and statuses on Facebook. I’ve spent hours crafting blog posts that are meaningful and honest. I talk about deep and personal subjects.

Thankfully, I’ve gotten a lot positive feedback about it. It has started some fascinating conversations with old and new friends. Some have even told me the articles are inspirational and asked me to please keep writing them because they’re so impactful.

This sounds like a success right?

Well, something odd happens on the day after I post these articles. The next day, I wake up feeling totally embarrassed. 

To the point where I can’t even make myself go and read the post again.

It’s a mixture of embarrassment, shame, and feeling like a fraud. It makes me want to go hide somewhere. I remembered the term for this: vulnerability hangover.

It’s when you share so much, get so real, expose your inner workings so thoroughly, that you wake up the next morning thinking, my god, I can’t believe I said that! What was I thinking??

Being vulnerable sounds great in the moment, sure. It gets you all empowered and emboldened, and you get high off being so authentic. But, if you share enough, on a large enough scale, you will wake up the next morning feeling terrified at yourself. That’s exactly what happened to me.

This got me really curious. One day, I felt good about something I wrote and shared. The next, that very same writing had me feeling bad and wishing I had never shared. What was going on?

Here’s my explanation. When we share something genuine about ourselves, or something we’ve created, we are tossing away the mask we’ve cobbled together that usually represents us to the world. It’s a way of putting a stake in the ground and saying, look–this is who I am.

The genuine part of us that comes through is who we really are. It feels great to claim that with others as witnesses. It means we can be ourselves more.

But the thing we forget is that it’s a choice we have to keep making. After that first time of getting really vulnerable, you might shrink a bit back into that old role. And Old You hates what you just did, because you’re killing him/her.

So the vulnerability hangover happens. It’s Old Small You hanging on for dear life. It will tell you things like, “Oh, you want to make a difference? You want to ‘help’ people? Don’t do that. No one wants to hear this. Just keep being who you were. It’s so easy, and so safe. It’s comfortable. Come on, come back to us.”

We’ve all got a little Gollum and Smeagol inside us.

Claim yourself

The idea of committing to my coaching business was extremely uncomfortable.

I had all sorts of objections to it. Things like, I don’t have anything of value to give people. It’s way too audacious to call my thoughts “wisdom.” My story won’t be meaningful to others. I’m not old or wise enough to coach people. Why would anyone trust me with their inner lives, and their money–I can’t actually make a difference to them.

All of these doubts come up in those moments when I’m not really believing in myself, and want to go back to the way things were.

But I also know the pain of living life in the shadows. The pain of potential unmet. The pain of dreaming big and living small. A lot of us know that dissatisfaction all too well.

So even though I feel like an impostor, like I’m doing something silly, I ignore the doubts and share my articles anyway. It’s the only real choice available.

Every time I post something, part of me regrets it and thinks it’s crazy. But I’m just going to keep doing it until that part shuts up.

The reason I tell you this is because we tend to envision progress and success as a glorious battle fought for your honor, your valor, your soul! Something epic and consequential. But more often progress is just a shitty little human thing we do, day after day, little step after little step.

It might look cool and inspirational from the outside, but from my side, it feels mostly weird and uncomfortable, and sometimes euphoric.

Getting Naked


Pursuing a dream is scary. You have to be really vulnerable for that. It involves stepping out of conventional expectations. It might involve letting go of a safe and stable and boring job. It might require failing. It may even involve explaining yourself to loved ones who don’t understand what you’re doing.

So, if you’re ready, I’d like to ask you–is there an area of your life where you could be more vulnerable? Maybe it’s a relationship (with another or yourself). Maybe it’s a career move. A little risk never killed anyone (wait, no, risk has definitely killed people).

What do you know you could give to the world but aren’t? Who do you know yourself to be deep down? What’s your vision for your place in the world? Is it different than what you’re doing now? Would you be willing to put the first stake in the ground, get super uncomfortable, and step into the arena?

These are some cases where vulnerability can change everything. And know that if you do decide to get vulnerable, I’ll be right there, feeling uncomfortable, with you.

In coaching

Some would say that if you don’t wake up with a vulnerability hangover, you haven’t shared enough.

I’ve watched a few really powerful coaching sessions where the coach asks the client to finish this sentence: “What I don’t want you to know about me is…”

And he keeps digging until the client is totally raw and exposed.

Another variation is finishing this sentence: “I want to follow x dream but I haven’t because deep down I’m afraid that…”

There is power is exposing the parts of ourselves that we feel are wrong and ugly. We all have habits or traits we’d rather the world not see. They keep us from expressing ourselves. But sharing them means they’re no longer the monster hiding in a dark corner that could snatch you at any moment. Sharing them is like taking a flashlight to that corner and seeing that there was never any monster in the first place.


Have you ever felt the power of vulnerability–or a vulnerability hangover–in your own life? I’d love to hear about it. Comment or email me with a story. And if you found this article interesting, don’t hesitate to share it with friends and subscribe for weekly wisdom :)



Why my BS radar recently went haywire

Recently I watched a video that reignited my frustration with most of the advice in the self-help world. It also reminded me why I now choose to work and coach people in a way that flies in the face of traditional self-help.

The source of my frustration

When I was fifteen, I realized that there was a term for the feelings of chronic low self-esteem, lack of self-worth, and general sadness that I often felt: depression.

I addressed this realization by employing the most powerful tool of our modern age–the Google search. I Googled away, looking for advice, perspectives, and strategies on how to feel better.

You got this dude! No, really, you do! I swear!

You got this dude! No, really, you do! I swear!

I discovered all kinds of stuff. Positive affirmations in the mirror. Visualizing success. Reprogramming negative beliefs. Moral and ethical codes to live by. The Secret. The law of attraction. Dating and attraction. New age spirituality. And so on.

Most of it was crap. Some of it was genuine.

It took several more years for me to understand what separates the crap from the genuine.

The crap was short-sighted. It was a band-aid. It didn’t go deep. It was based on the premise that you are actually flawed, but can definitely improve yourself. (You just have to buy their book or course.)

But the common denominator in all of the genuine material out there was that its premise is the exact opposite. You actually are not flawed. Your true nature is perfectly whole–you’re complete. Everyone is, without exception.

Hearing this message was like a breath of fresh air in a stuffy room, or jumping into a lake on a scorching summer day. I knew I was home. Something about it just resonated in my core. It felt right. (That’s how truth feels.)

In college I had the chance to learn more about this. I studied Eastern religions like Zen, Hinduism, and Daoism, which all shared the notion of basic completeness. I learned that we are infinite drops from an infinite sea. That there is innate intelligence in us, and when we align with it, we emanate peace and wisdom. We just forget we can do this.

It was a dramatic journey of frustration and triumph. But it left me with a sour taste in my mouth about most personal development strategies out there. They play into people’s insecurities. They prolong the suffering of those who are looking for a way to feel better. It’s a well-meaning deception, and it gets me pissed off.

Back to today

So imagine how I felt when I opened an email this weekend from a coaching community that I like and respect with a video preaching this exact brand of false self-improvement.

The video was about how to become a better communicator. I’m pretty sure it contained a list of steps to take. I’m not sure, because I stopped watching after the first.

Step one: Be Confident.

OK, sure, I thought. Confidence is important for communication.

The narrator’s opening pitch was that confidence is important for being a great communicator. He asked, “but how can you be confident if you’re NOT a great communicator?”

Uh oh. My BS radar perked up.

He goes on to list the reasons why having confidence when you speak to individuals or groups is crucial–you can speak with conviction and own what you say. Moreover, a lack of confidence is painfully obvious–lack of eye contact, poor body language, a weak handshake.

And finally, his closing statement. “Even if you aren’t quite there yet, [these strategies] will make you appear a much stronger communicator than you are.”

I couldn’t watch any more.

You might be reading this thinking, what’s the big deal? I don’t see what’s so bad about that.

BS alertbull

Well, thankfully, my BS radar is finely honed. Let me explain.

His opening statement was that you might truly be a sh*tty communicator, but if you just do a few simple things to appear confident, it’ll fix the problem.

After years of education at BSU, I can now propose an alternate theory. (Except it’s not a theory, it’s just true.)

Let’s start with a different premise: confidence is your natural state. It’s who you are by default. And when you’re in touch with your innate confidence, and not thinking your way out of it, effective communication isn’t an issue. It just happens automatically, because we are more effective when speaking from a quiet mind and peaceful heart. That doesn’t mean there aren’t skills you can learn, and that you won’t get better with practice. But instead of proposing a few band-aid solutions, let’s address the heart of the matter. It makes more sense to me to have people discover and embody their innate confidence, rather than try a few superficial solutions to have them temporarily seem confident. Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach him to fish…. you know where I’m going with this.

The narrator’s original sentiment is then echoed in his closing statement. Even if you actually suck at communicating, following my tips will at least give you the appearance of not sucking.

Ironically, what HE is communicating is that you probably aren’t very good at communicating, deep down. What I know to be true is the exact opposite.

We have peace, wisdom, and happiness inside us. They are as innate gifts by the simple grace of being alive and human. That part of us is who we really are. It’s always with us. We just learn to act like it isn’t, and then we believe that.

Remember how it felt to be a kid? The world had so much wonder. Little things made us content. It’s kind of like this:

We learned how to walk because the natural intelligence embedded in us just leads us to do it. We didn’t worry about how many times we’d fall down. And we didn’t need to take a course or struggle to do it.

That simplicity is still in us. We are sometimes lucky enough to have days like that as adults. Call it being in the zone, in flow, what have you. You feel good for no reason. Recall now the last time this happened with you. Social interactions come easily, and there’s an underlying feeling of basic peace. If you’re crazy like me, after that you think, damn, how did I do that? I need to figure out the exact conditions that made it possible and reverse engineer them so I can have it more. But the funny thing is that those days cannot be willed into existence because they don’t come from us. They are life coming through us. The best thing we can do is get ourselves out of our own ways.

What this all translates to in the self-help world is this: the crap advice implies that we need something outside of us to get where we want to be. The good advice reminds us that what we need is already inside of us.

The crap advice tells us we need to learn something new. The good advice tells us we need to remember something ancient.

The crap advice tells us we need to get somewhere. The good advice tells us we’re already there.

Calming down again

It may sound like I have a vendetta against the poor narrator of that video. But really, I still like and respect him. It was meant to be a quick energizer, not the profoundest of life’s wisdom. And his advice might even temporarily help some people.

However, this is why I’m passionate about coaching. If someone is new to the world of self-improvement, it may look like his premise–that we’re not whole already–is right. They’ll try his strategies and eventually be disappointed if they’re looking for something deeper, more true. That was me, for a long time. I want nothing more than to save people the goose chase and give them the best news in the world. Everything you’re looking for is already yours. It’s just a matter of remembering it.

Have you ever experienced frustration with the world of traditional self-help? I would love to hear about your experience. Drop a comment below. If this article spoke to you, subscribe for more here, and share it with someone else to whom it might speak. And if you’d like, sign up for a free session with me and we can go deeper into this conversation.



My four biggest takeaways from the first weekend of Supercoach Academy

supercoachWhen I arrived for the first morning of the first weekend of Supercoach Academy, I sat in my car outside before going in. I had no idea what to expect–and was trying to avoid expecting anything. I wondered if I was going to be the youngest one there. I wondered if it was going to change my world. Thankfully, it was nothing like what I thought–it was way better.

These were my four biggest takeaways.

1. Groups of people amplify feelings

Santa Monica -- not a bad setting for a transformative weekend.

Santa Monica — not a bad setting for a transformative weekend.

This might explain phenomena like mob mentality. Now, I’ve learned about the Three Principles before. I’ve taken video courses, read books, and talked with people on the phone and Skype about it. But never have I sat in a room with 80 other people and world class teachers as we all learn and explore the same things. The curiosity and intrigue in the room were palpable. It reached a powerful, somatic, and super energetic level that made the wisdom sink deeper into my marrow than it would have by sitting quietly and reading a book. In this context, relationships are created with total ease, because everyone is feeling the same thing. There is immediate common ground and relatability.

One of the most important results of this amplification was that it took me out of my head. The power in the room wasn’t intellectual, it was visceral and intuitive. And (as I discuss in #4) getting out of your head is one of the best ways to reach new levels of wisdom.

2. Resistance, discomfort, and pain mark the way forward

One thing I certainly did NOT expect was for the material to trigger strong feelings of sadness, anxiety, and self-consciousness.

We wasted no time diving into the deep end of the spiritual pool. On the morning of the very first day, Michael wrote two important questions he considers for each coaching client: 1) Do they know that their experience comes from the inside? and 2) Do they know that they’re God?

I thought, f*ck, I don’t know that I’m God. I mean, I know it intellectually, sure. I’ve been learning that for years in my studies of religion and mysticism. But do I feel that way? Nope. Usually, when I hear or read that we’re all God and have just forgotten it, I skip the part about whether or not I actually know it for myself. That’s because typically I ingest it in an intellectual way, as a concept, in my head. Sure, it makes sense that we’re all divine beings, droplets from an infinite ocean, living temples for the soul of the universe–I get that. But this time, I couldn’t just contain it in the intellectual space I’m comfortable with. Remember how I said this weekend’s energy brought everything to a visceral, gut-level experience? This meant that all of a sudden I could no longer ignore the fact that I didn’t know–in my bones–that I am, and we are, God.

This was fascinating.

I reflected on this, and began to understand why. See, there are reasons we don’t all know our true spiritual nature. Those reasons are the skeleton that holds together the small self. What could be further from an experience of the godhead than depression, anxiety, and worthlessness? When I feel those things, there is no way I can accept my inner divinity.

For various psychological reasons that someone could write a PhD dissertation on, we hold onto the small self. Because it’s familiar, because it’s safe, because we’re afraid.

So here’s my theory–when I sat in that room, with 80 other gods, being told that I was god, I was thrust b*lls deep into the layers of myself that I built to convince myself that I’m not.

It was my small self saying, “Oh, you want to realize your divine inner nature? You’re gonna have to get through me first.” And it did so with all of the patterns of thought I use to be sure that I’m not God–depression, anxiety, and worthlessness.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that when the Academy ended each day and I went to hang out with friends, I felt great. Ligher, happier, calmer. What happened to all that pain?

I see it like this–imagine your inner soul coated with wax. How do you remove the wax?

You hold it over a flame.flame

Ouch! I could feel the heat, the fire, the pain of those layers melting away. But, the point is this: they started to melt away.

What if this is what pain and discomfort are? A call to transform our consciousness, a call to understand reality at a deeper level, the ache of an oppressed, suffering spirit?

Maybe we should explore pain. This seems counter-intuitive. But that’s because we fear our suffering has a very grand meaning (which we’ve made up) about ourselves or the world: that deep down we are weak and small and alone, that we are not deeply loved, that we are not in the hands of a kind reality, that we can truly fail and lose everything.

I invite you to test those assumptions.

Do you know that you’re God?

3. Listening like a rock with ears is better than “active” listening

We did an exercise in three different types of listening. Listening to “affirm” (this is what most of us do most of the time), listening to “negate,” and listening like a rock with ears.

Listening to negate was unpleasant. Listening to affirm was surprisingly annoying and ended up breaking the concentration of the speaker. As the speaker nods along with “mhm”s and “yeah”s, and mirrors the speakers body language, it creates a desire in the speaker to continue saying things that affirm the listeners ongoing validation. It exposed itself to be a fake relationship.

But listening like a rock with ears–it simply felt like REAL listening. As the speaker, I found myself saying things to the rock-like listener I didn’t know I thought until they came out. It was creation in action. And as the listener, I felt so connected to the speaker, and I heard much deeper than just the words she was saying. Beautiful.

4. Flow happens when you’re out of the way

We discussed as a group the way it feels when we’re really performing at our absolute best. And that’s what coaching is all about, right? Drawing out the best in the client, and performing at our best as the coach. And we all had the same conclusion. Top-notch performance, also known as flow or being in the zone, happens when we are out of the way. It doesn’t come from us, it comes through us.

Think about a time in your life–at work, running the mile, improvising a blues solo on guitar, playing a role on stage, whatever you love–when you felt like you were performing at the top of your game. Do you find something similar?

I go into this in great detail in this post. When we try to perform with all of the knowledge, skill, and techniques we learned, it’s feels clunky and we get in our own way. But when we get out of the way and allow experience to come through us… well, the results are just better.

How do we get to the point where it’s easy to allow the experience to come through us? The way it looks to me right now, is simply repetition. :)


I hope I’ve been able to communicate even a small bit of why this weekend was moving for me. Do you have a question about any of this? Want to have a conversation? Think I’m full of crap? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below, shoot me an email on the Contact page, and/or sign up for my weekly email to go deeper into this conversation.



To transform others, you have to be transformed

Most people who get into the world of coaching have great intentions.

We want to help others. We want to share wisdom and perspectives that have moved us forward. We want to connect and have meaningful conversation. We want to serve.

But I think many of us have a misconception about the best way to accomplish those goals.

We think that we have to learn as much as possible. We have to be experts in a particular field or way of thinking. We have to know the answer to everything that might come up in a session. So we read, we watch videos, we take courses, we do the “self-improvement” jig exactly the way we’re supposed to. It’s a very logical approach to take.

So imagine my dismay when I discovered that these things have very little to do with actually serving clients.

In fact, the greatest blocks I experienced in delivering effective coaching were all of those things I had learned. Here’s a sample of some internal dialogue that might be present during one of those sessions:

Me: OK, here comes the part where she says the reason why this issue is important for her. Shit, I’m not doing deep listening. OK, listen deep now.

Client: *already said something which I hadn’t really heard, waits in silence*

Me: Damn. Ask them the clarify that last point they said.

Client: *clarifies*

Me: Wow, that is an important issue. I faced something like that. What’s something wise/profound I can dish out to really help them (aka help me sound really cool)? *Says something that’s probably not too profound*

Client: Mmm, yeah, I can see that. That makes sense.

Me: What?! I thought they were going to react way better to that! Don’t they realize how profound that was supposed to be?

You get the idea.

The most tragic thing about such a scenario is that, for all of my great intentions of serving the client, my internal chatter is all about me. That’s not service.

How the Masters do it

Have you ever seen a masterful coach, therapist, guru, or teacher give a powerful session? Or better yet, have you received one? It’s incredible. What strikes me is how simple it seems to them.

Words and wisdom flow out of them effortlessly. They listen quietly and compassionately, and they listen more than they talk. Their questions really make the client pause and reconsider something, as if you can almost see an inner shift taking place by the expression on their face.

On the occasions when I coach to the best of my ability, I take on similar qualities. And this is what it feels like: it’s like I’m not there. It comes through me, not from me.

We really get in our own ways with all of the techniques, skills, and models we use. They’re supposed to be the train tracks that the client rides to a new height. But instead they’re the road blocks that stop smooth sailing.

And here’s the best part about that state of ease, flow, and grace: it’s our natural state. When we forget all of the chatter in our head, what’s beneath is innate wisdom. Powerful questions emerge naturally when we listen quietly without much on our minds. New perspectives arise from the source of creativity that we are all connected to (but that we forget about). Wisdom gets expressed because we’re all naturally wise underneath our thinking.

That’s what makes for powerful coaching. That’s what the masters do differently. And it really is simple. But it can be hard to make it so simple.

Not just for coaches

The source of great coaching isn’t just for coaches. It’s for artists, engineers, social workers, managers, doctors. It’s for homeless people, rich people, babies, seniors, the mentally ill, the disabled, and everyone in between. When we exist in that quiet place, our presence touches and transforms whoever we interact with, even if in the tiniest way.

It’s not about the words or techniques. It’s about the presence. And you can’t get presence by reading about it in a book, positive thinking, or reading a quick 6-step article.

You get it by really seeing the truth. In my experience, what’s true is that each of has innate health and wellbeing deep down. What’s true is that thoughts and feelings don’t have to mean anything that we don’t make them mean. Our experience comes from our thinking about a person, event, or experience, not from the outside person, event, or circumstance. So we’re all connected to divinity underneath the stories we make up about why we’re not.

That’s what masters know, and it’s where they coach, speak, listen, solve, and think from. And it’s the place they take clients to, and that transforms them both.