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.

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.


–WB Yeats


The more we understand life, the more we understand death.

The more we love, the more we have to lose.

When we realize we have no power, we gain all our power.

We’re humans, we’re beautiful, and we’re gonna die.

Radical Equality

What if everyone was your equal?

This stops the comparison game. And that game is evil because you are never enough, you end up feeling like you’re worse than who you’re comparing yourself to. But also, you have the secret hope that you can actually be better than the person. But there’s no better and no worse. Once that is gone, people are inspiring again, people are beautiful, and we can connect with them from who we really are to who they really are.

Here’s an example from my own life. I work in the ER of a hospital, and I’ll admit that when I first started there I was intimidated. Everyone seemed so serious. They ran around with important medical issues to attend to. It got in the way of doing my job, because I feared that I would be talking to a patient in their room and a nurse or doctor would come in and ask “what do you think you’re doing here?” and berate me.

A totally irrational fear, but it was stemming from my comparing my own importance to the rest of the staff’s importance, and deriving a sense of who I am from it. They were above me.

An interesting sight changed all of that in an instant. I saw a kid who looked so out of place in the ER standing in the hallway. He was tattooed from head to foot (from what I could tell), had gaged ears, a cigarette tucked behind his ear, and loose fitting jeans. But there he was, in the midst of all of these extremely educated, successful, well-paid people, just existing. He stood in the hallway with no shame or apology about who he was.

I instantly relaxed. And when I did, I became more confident in my interactions with staff and patients, and in my role there. I saw that they were people too, just like me. I saw that they have senses of humor, and make mistakes, and complain, and do the best they can, just like me. It freed me.

In other words, seeing that they were no better or worse than me brought me right back to the center of who I am, and allowed me to talk more genuinely to the center of who they are.

How can you toy with this idea in your own life? Is there an area where you are comparing yourself to others and making yourself either better or worse? Because both are false, and both are fictions of the ego. It’s been my experience that we are all equal, and we are equally divine, and equally unique.

And, if you catch yourself thinking, “but how do I stop comparing myself!? It’s a habit!” I invite with you to toy with the possibility that noticing it is enough. If you’re going 60 mph in a car and want to get down to 15, how do you do it? You just take your foot off the gas.

Let life discover you

I love adventure, but every time I try to plan one out, it comes up short and I leave disappointed. Planning is the enemy of adventure. True adventure involves discovery, which can only be unplanned.

The gull took a liking to the roof of my car.

The gull took a liking to the roof of my car.

We think that by picking the right activities we can optimize enjoyment. Sounds like we would try to computerize life. Life is in spontaneity, life is in serendipity. There’s nothing we can substitute for striking out and seeing what plans emerge with each passing moment. Following those tunes us into the rhythm of life.

Here’s an example: Cecilia and I went to Monterey for a three day trip. I looked forward to it as an escape from the routine of daily life, a mini-travel experience, an adventure to kickstart and feed my imagination. The first two days, we had a bunch of ideas about what to do, activities we’d heard would be fun; plans. They were nice, but they weren’t particularly exciting, and they weren’t tinged with the euphoria and awe that comes with seeing more of the world. Then on the third day, we decided simply to drive up the coast with no plans and stop wherever we felt like stopping. This was by far the best day of the trip. It left us both on an adventure and romance high. We stopped in Santa Cruz and went on a roller coaster. We watched sea lions and otters. We stopped in a random diner in a random beach town with a population of 400. We explored a secret tunnel that led from the beach, under the highway, to the woods.


It was the third day that we felt most alive. Plans can be good if you have a good reason to know exactly what you want to do. But if you want adventure, plans can be like an iron cage that keeps you from it.

Adventure is discovery. Everyone is an adventure junkie. The question is can we let go of the idea that we know best? Maybe we don’t need to know. Maybe we just need to put ourselves in the river of life and let it sweep us away.

You’ll never see Netflix the same again

“The projector is real. The movie changes every week.” – Michael Neill

You’re watching Netflix. Ongoing episodes, on and on, continuously streaming from one episode to the next. Your vision is limited to only what is on the screen. If you didn’t know that there was a little device inside the computer projecting pictures onto the screen, you would be completely taken by each show. You’d be scared when the show is scary, sad when it’s sad, happy when it’s happy, and laughy when it’s funny.

There’s nothing wrong with that. But you’re the victim of each show. If you then learned that behind the shows that are constantly coming and going on your screen is a mini projector device that’s interpreting bits of data and putting it on the screen, you’d watch differently. You’d see what’s behind the show. You’d be at peace rather than at the whim of each episode.

What if your mind was the projector, projecting thought, and what you see on the screen is your experience of life?

Mind is real. But we are always feeling our thoughts, not feeling the circumstances or event. What does it feel like to see that–that we are living in the feeling of our thinking, not the feeling of the world, as Michael Neill says? Does it make things a bit less scary?

Humor is art!

Humor is a form of art. It involves seeing new connections, piecing things together in a novel way, making a creation that no one else has made before. It requires original perspective to do so, and like art, it gives the recipient a shift in what they see–or perhaps, how they experience what they see.

Humorists take commonplace experiences and put a completely unique spin on it, and it makes you laugh.