No, You Don’t Have Forever

Okay, I hate to break this to you:  You don’t have forever.

Right, you’ve heard that before.  But, you haven’t heard it from me, and probably not in just this way.

Here:  If you have a gift, you had better get busy honoring it.  I don’t want to stress you out, but none of us should assume we have many years to express the God-given talents we were blessed with.  I have seen too many lives interrupted by outside intrusions (like the economy going south) or illness to advise you that you can put the creative projects you want to undertake on a timeline stretching ten years into the future.

No one knows a thing about ten years in the future.  You or I may or may not be on the planet ten years in the future.  Either of us might be hit by a car and be spending most of our mental energy trying to manage chronic pain.  Either of us might have had a stroke and be trying to speak, let alone start a business or write a book or run for a political office.

I know.  I know.  This sounds very stark.  Well, so be it.  I don’t want to feel responsible for not having told you.  I don’t want to pretend I didn’t see people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, never mind their 50s and 60s get dire diagnoses when I trained at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.  I don’t want you to miss out by planning too far out.

Got a dream?  Get started actualizing it.  Now.  Stop denying the ravages of time.  Stop denying death.  Stop denying your destiny.  Embrace it.  Manifest it.

If you’re not sure what your greatest gift is or how you can make the most of it, then email me or call me, and we’ll team up to find out and roll it out.  Simple.

I’ve been accused of quoting Salinger too much, but I don’t think one can quote Salinger too much.  So, here are his words:

You’d better get busy, though, buddy. The goddamn sands run out on you every time you turn around. I know what I’m talking about. You’re lucky if you get time to sneeze in this goddamn phenomenal world. {…} I used to worry about that. I don’t worry about it very much any more. {…} I want an honorable goddamn skull when I’m dead, buddy. I hanker after an honorable goddamn skull . . .

I know what I’m talking about, too.  Get busy.

Dr. Keith Ablow


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A friend of mine and I used to quietly celebrate when an idea for a project or a decision about how to move a relationship forward just seemed to “click.”  We’d look at one another and say, “Yup.”

Yup was our way of verbalizing the feeling you get in your gut when the myriad of variables that factor into a gripping understanding of a problem suddenly added up.  It was our far lower key way of yelling Eureka!

Yup moments require analytic thought, but occur at a level beyond all thought.  They are products of an immeasurable combination of analysis, conscious and unconscious memory, intuition and imagination, often working simultaneously to solve a riddle.

There are a number of ways to increase the likelihood of experiencing Yup moments.  Here are three:

  • First, you have to listen for Yup. You don’t listen with your ears, of course.  You listen with your mind and your heart.  Yup moments feel like the cylinders of a combination lock spinning into alignment with that final stop of the dial.  That’s it:  All is aligned.


  • Second, in order to feel Yup moments, you would do well to get rid of the emotional “noise” in your life created by pages and chapters of your life story that you have yet to examine, understand, make peace with and derive power from.


  • Third, sometimes you should try to “insist on” Yup moments before making significant personal or professional decisions. Resisting decision made with intellect alone or made half-heartedly is like going to a gym to work out your “gut”—just a different gut, in this case.

You may be having more Yup moments than you might imagine, by the way.  Noticing minor ones also increases the likelihood of experiencing more substantial ones.  I have them while writing, for instance.  When the words of a sentence flow, I could (but don’t 🙂 ) footnote that sentence with a *Yup.  But I think readers get the Yup, anyhow.  You may have them when you say exactly what you mean about an issue, when you tell a friend or a family member exactly how you feel about them, when you pick the perfect marketing plan, when you tweak an entrepreneurial idea in just the right way, when you connect at a deep level of understanding with any human being, or just when you are standing in the right place to catch the perfect view of a sunset.  Yup.  That, too.

Dr. Keith Ablow


The article “YUP” first appeared on Pain-2-Power

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Respecting the Fine Line Between Creativity and Fiction

Fiction is the domain of novels and screenplays, but it has a way of slipping into other creative pursuits, like planning entrepreneurial endeavors and evaluating our businesses, as well as planning and evaluating our lives.

The reason for this potential slippage—which can cause us to put less than solidly-factual and rational foundations under what we build—is probably partly neurological.  We human beings are moved by the energy that fiction can kindle.  Creative, but reality-based imagination probably requires the activation of nerve centers in the brain that flirt with those that generate pure make-believe.

In the realm of creating fiction we are free to take big leaps toward our dreams and to imagine meeting our goals without the intrusion of realities that would slow us down or weigh us down.  There is a dashed line that connects the notion of raising large sums of capital for a limited idea and morphing into a superhero and winning the day, against all the odds.  Our minds are capable of suspending disbelief and being recruited into illusions that make us feel magical.

In the realm of imagination that serves the creation of non-fiction—like a real business or real preparation for a career—there are realities that must be respected.  There are hurdles that—properly—weigh down those huge leaps we can take toward imagining the fulfilment of our dreams.  There are troubling details that make us check our compelling ideas to make sure they are worthy ideas.

This is why working on oneSELF is so important to the creation of an inspiring non-fiction project, of any kind.  Because the creator must be as expansive in his or her thinking as possible, yet as invulnerable as possible to slipping into fantasy. True and strong foundations must be built, even for very moving projects.  And if the creator has developed a habit of avoiding the painful paragraphs or pages or chapters in his or her own life story then he or she will be more prone to avoiding the painful, often solvable problems with whatever they plan.

To solve problems, they must be seen.  That’s why the imaginative, non-fiction thinker and doer in business (or in any endeavor) is a transformational thinker, not a Transformer, of the fictional superhero variety.

Dr. Keith Ablow


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In cities across America, under cover of darkness, often wearing masks, looters are smashing windows and stealing merchandise from shops.  Our cities teem with those whose rage and lack of regard for the underpinnings of our society are manifest.  As I saw the throngs carry off clothing and watches and electronic equipment, I found mySELF thinking about what cannot be stolen from a shopkeeper, or the team that runs a company with many stores or from the good and decent residents of cities and states who must now watch funds diverted from other needed projects, in order to clean up their streets and attempt to keep their residents safe.  And these words came to mind:

Courage, Faith and Truth Cannot Be Looted

Courage, faith and truth cannot be stolen because they reside in the sacred, core domain of the individual.  These qualities are eternal and are also the antidote to our nation being dismantled and not resurrected.  Because our country was built upon these qualities.  They are inextricably woven into the narrative of our nation, and they are indominable.

Ultimately, what constitutes being an individual versus being part of a mob is the story of these riots.  Individuals hoping to change the hearts and minds of other individuals engage in discourse, use powerful symbols and work for change in methodical, productive ways.  There are no true individuals who respond to the tragic murder of a man of color by smashing windows and stealing expensive clothes and watches.  Those are lost souls who have no confidence in themSELVES, who have been emptied of their authenticity and who think that there is no difference between wearing a stolen sweatshirt and one you worked hard to buy.  But there is a world of difference, and there always will be, which is why looters can never get anything from a store that they truly need.

Take it from the legendary psychoanalyst Carl Jung:

Ultimately, everything depends on the quality of the individual, but the fatally shortsighted habit of our age is to think only in terms of large numbers and mass organizations, though one would think that the world has seen more than enough of what a . . .                      mob can do . . .  A million zeros joined together do not, unfortunately, add up to one.


Dr. Keith Ablow


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The Four Conversations that Changed You

We human beings are extremely connected to one another—so much so that even one conversation can change your life.  But I think that it can be very instructive and healing to think of four conversations you’ve had that impacted you:  Two of them positively, and two negatively.  These conversations may have occurred recently, or many years ago.  Recalling them now can bring back the positive energy the great ones conveyed and allow you to remind yourself to be on the alert for (and rid yourself of) negative messages that the discouraging or damaging ones may have left you with.

Give yourself a bit of time for this exercise.  I chose the word “exercise,” intentionally, by the way.  Bringing back these important discussions with others will strengthen your sense of self.  It’s like a short visit to a metaphorical gym for the mind.

If you’re having trouble identifying the four conversations, think of the people you feel most fortunate to have (or have had) in your life and the people you have felt least supported by.  Then, try to remember the exchanges between you that were either high points or low points.

I picked the word “exchanges,” intentionally, too.  The positive and negative messages that people convey to one another are a little like software patches.  They can integrate with our self-concepts in wonderful ways or destructive ways.  The Four Conversations is about embracing, again, the “software upgrades” and getting rid of the “software viruses.”

Once you have identified The Four Conversations, distill them down to the central messages that made you choose them. Maybe someone recognized a core talent of yours—and told you, directly.  Maybe someone convinced you of their unconditional love for you.  Maybe someone told you that they’d heard wonderful things about you from one of your parents, and you’ve never forgotten how warm that made you feel.  On the negative side, there are almost certainly conversations that—wrongly—made you doubt yourSELF, made you feel unworthy or made you wrongly second-guess a decision or direction in life.

We are, all of us, products of each and every moment we have lived, to this very moment.  Coming up with your Four Conversations is just one way to make sure that what impacted you, very positively or very negatively—and may be continuing to affect you—doesn’t go unnoticed or forgotten.

Dr. Keith Ablow


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The Real Way to “Leave the Past Behind”

So many people—millions of people—believe that the way to “leave the past behind” is to turn one’s back to it and march into the next pages and chapters of their life stories.  There is a natural human tendency to avoid complex parts of our narratives.  And that tendency is triggered in an especially strong way when these narratives include confusing, painful paragraphs, pages or chapters—whether they unfolded in childhood or adolescence or during a divorce or when a business faltered.

In truth, turning one’s back to the past doesn’t work.  Because the troubled times we remain part of our stories, whether we want to ignore them, or not.  Left to smolder underground, they will affect the present and the future.

I sometimes imagine people intent on running from the past as having a rubber band attached to their backs.  You get the metaphor:  More and more effort to escape results in more and more force dragging those folks back to the places they are trying to flee.

The reality is that there’s no need to flee.  In fact, the right way to leave the past behind—the only way—is to turn around, face it and learn from it.  Then you’re free.  No more rubber band attached to your back.  Clear sailing.

It’s easier than you think.  Too many of us worry that thinking about our personal histories will get us lost in the past.  That fear is a paper tiger.  When we look at those parts of our stories that we most feel like turning away from, we don’t get lost.  We find ourselves.  That’s because the core of us is pure potential.  Processing the past, learning to shed the negative patterns that took root there, unleashes that potential.

No one knows how this unleashing of potential happens, but I believe it is powered by the fact that we are—each and every one of us— possessed of goodness, purpose and potential.  Those are the treasures waiting to be unearthed when we dig deep for the sources of our pain and, by facing them, restore ourSELVES to the people we were meant to be, from all time.


Dr. Keith Ablow


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God (or the Universe, if you prefer) created you for a particular journey, with a unique purpose and destiny in this life.  It is encoded not only in the double helix of your DNA, but in the infinite helix of your soul.  That is why becoming your true self—and manifesting the treasures that flow from it is a pure form of prayer, not an exercise of ego or a display of arrogance.

Why does this journey to the self-seem so daunting?  I believe the answer, at least in part, lies in the fear that we will be unacceptable or unloved or “unsuccessful” if we take it.  What assurance do we have that speaking our minds, expressing our love or pursuing our creative passions won’t leave us without “enough?”  Perhaps, we fear, we will be ridiculed for charting a course that leads to poverty.  Perhaps we will be ostracized.  Perhaps what we manifest will be imperfect or unworthy.  Perhaps we will look back and think of ourselves as foolish to have believed in our selves.

We are tempted to “buy” insurance by spending our time on endeavors more certain to win acclaim from others, success by the numbers and safety by following in lock step with expectations.

Faith, of course, is the antidote to needing insurance of any kind.  Faith would have us listen to the voices inside us, even when they only whisper about our truest path in this life.  But faith can be hard to come by when we encounter relationships and live through events that make us question whether we are worthwhile, whether we are loveable, whether we are deluding ourselves by believing in ourselves.  For all but a few, these imperfect paragraphs and pages and chapters of our life stories begin to unfold in childhood.  We struggle to find ourselves amidst the dynamics of family.  Some of the children and teachers and neighbors and friends we meet tell us, in one way or another, that expressing ourSELVES is risky business.  We live through events, including loss, that remind us the world can be a dangerous place that can break our hearts.  And we can easily forget that the preface to each of our stories—every one of us—has been edited for eons.  There are no mistakes.

Faith implies the willingness to experience pain on the path back to oneSELF.  The bread crumbs are there, but following them means exploring and understanding how we lost our way.  Yes, that can feel uncomfortable, but it is far less painful than you might imagine.  And it is, ultimately, essential, liberating and life-sustaining.

You were meant for this:  The ultimate journey to your core self.  Only that will do.  Only that will bring you home, safe and sound.

Dr. Keith Ablow


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Why Does it Often “Hurt” to Create?

Part of the joy of my work is that I have had the privilege to talk to people from, quite literally, almost every walk of life. And there’s a theme that comes through when I listen to creators—whether painters, film directors, visionary entrepreneurs, or writers (and many others):  The creative process isn’t always pure pleasure; more often it is, in fact, painful.

Effort against resistance seems to be an inherent facet of bringing things into this world.  It’s part of birthing anything of value.  A baby.  An idea.  And, yes, your true SELF.  (You knew that’s where I was headed, didn’t you?)

I remember that when I was starting a charity fundraising company called Causemo, we hit a point in our planning when we needed to rethink fundamental elements of how the company would operate.  My co-founder noticed the pained expression on my face and said, “This is supposed to be the fun part.  You don’t look like you’re having fun.”

I was, actually.  But the process hurt, at the same time.  It felt a little like running a few miles feels to me.  I want to do it.  I don’t really want to stop.  There are certainly times it is enjoyable.  And there are certainly times it is painful.

I think there are a few reasons why any worthwhile creative act involves some amount of struggle.

First, our nervous systems include some amount of “noise.”  This may literally be a result of the way nerve cells connect across fluid-filled synapses, generating electrical activity between them. Getting a pure signal may require neurological “effort” that feels like work.

Second, and perhaps more important, our life stories create “noise” because the pages and chapters include stressful, even traumatic, times, relationships that may have directed us away from our core selves (the seat of creativity) and negative patterns of thought, emotion and behavior that interfere with manifesting the very best of ourselves.

Getting it “right,” especially when the art we seek to create is ourSELVES, in pure and powerful form, will, therefore, always feel like some amount of work.  But there is a great deal of joy in the process, even as the work unfolds.  Because we are then engaged in the most important creative process there could ever be—manifesting our greatest potential and greatest sense of being self-actualized in life, both personally and professionally.


Dr. Keith Ablow


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Commit to Living Your Most Powerful Life This Memorial Day

Today, as America remembers its fallen soldiers, who died defending liberty, I can’t help thinking that they died in service to the opportunity each and every one of us has to become SELF-actualized.  Without liberty, our ideals and ideas and inspirations would be choked off; we couldn’t become the people we were meant—by God or the Universe—to be.

Seen this way, the men and women who fought and died at Normandy, in our quest to free the world from the horrors of The Third Reich, were fighting and dying to give you and me the opportunity we have today and every day to manifest as much of the good within us as we possibly can.  On D-day alone more than 53,000 American soldiers died. Casualties topped 200,000.  In an almost unfathomable scene that will always make me think of God parting the Red Sea to allow the Hebrew people to escape slavery in Egypt, the waters near the shores of Omaha and Utah beaches, where American forces landed, turned red with blood.  Could there be any more stark symbol of the sacrifice made by Americans to bring forth the truth about how deeply the human soul yearns for freedom from tyranny—for the freedom to be?

During World War II, we lost 416,000 heroic Americans.  In World War I, we lost more than 116,000.  In Vietnam, over 58,000 Americans gave their lives.  Over 33,000 died in the Korean War.  All told, more than 1,260,000 Americans have died in wars.  The pain they and their loved ones experienced fighting for your right to live in freedom and my right to live in freedom—and all of our children’s and their children’s—is an eternal example of how much pain human beings will endure in service to making it possible for each of us to fully express him- or herSELF.

You are imbued with a destiny to fulfill in life and with the God-given instinct to live with purpose.  That is what our men and women died for in war and that is what every member of the Armed Forces serving today—or who has ever served—is fighting for or has fought for.  For freedom.  For YOU and ME, in the fullest incarnations imaginable.

On this Memorial Day, may you commit to becoming your true and full SELF.  Then your life will be a tribute to every life lost by American men and women brave and true enough to serve on the ground, in the air or at sea.


Dr. Keith Ablow


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noun: narrative; plural noun: narratives

  1. a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.

Every one of us is a story—a series of connected events.  That word—connected—is key, because it is human nature to avoid thinking about the events that are most stressful or painful or that simply seem inconvenient.  And that deprives us of the immeasurable power that those very events would yield, were we to glean from them all the life lessons they hold.

No one does very well, in fact, trying to move on without the critical parts of his or her life story accessible to the conscious mind.  Why is that?  Well, imagine this scenario:  You open a book to page 131, read through to page 261, then try to write the next three chapters.  First of all, those next three chapters will lack consistency and authenticity, because the author (you) has been deprived of the main character’s backstory.  Second, the author would naturally be vulnerable to feeling anxious and despondent and ill-equipped to pen the best chapters.  He or she might rightly protest, “But I don’t know what happened from page one to one-hundred-thirty-one.”  Exactly.

Now, consider this:  What might those 131 pages contain?  They might well include key insights into toxic relationships that led to needless self-doubt.  They might include unexpected losses that made the hero of the story irrationally anxious that all could be lost at any time.  They might also include wonderful gifts and talents that the main character left behind, thinking that they weren’t supported by parents or teachers or friends.  And they might include the certain knowledge that it took real energy and courage and resiliency and creativity to get through some of the toughest pages and chapters of that story—power that could be tapped, again, once recognized and rekindled.

See, that word connected is critical because we are—each and every one of us—a story.  And the most powerful version of that story is the non-fiction version.  Wringing the fiction out of the narrative takes some work and some time, but it is well worth it, because it leaves a clear runway to reach new heights in life.

So, why do people avoid doing the work?  They consciously or unconsciously worry it will be daunting.  They think it is better to “let sleeping dogs lie.”  They worry looking back is wasteful and that the future is the only horizon.  And they could not be more wrong, on every score.  Reclaiming one’s true self is the most important and most restorative work of a lifetime.  Far from destabilizing one’s life, it reinforces the foundation and sets the stage to build the strongest, most expansive and most meaningful parts of one’s existence.


Dr. Keith Ablow


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