Viktor Frankl was a world-famous Austrian psychologist who survived Auschwitz and Dachau, two Nazi death camps.  While his theory about the central importance of having meaning in one’s life had already taken shape in his mind, his insights only sharpened during his imprisonment.  He wrote them out on bits of stolen paper, and they became the basis of his work, Man’s Search for Meaning. The book has become one of the ten most influential books in the United States (according to a survey by the Library of Congress).  But it is in another book by Frankl, entitled Yes to Life, that I found a searing passage completely consistent with the Pain-2-Power formula for enhancing or remaking one’s life:

What has come through to us from the past?  Two things:  everything depends on the individual human being, regardless of how small a number of like-minded people there is, and everything depends on each person, through action and not mere words, creatively making the meaning of life a reality in his or her own being. 

These sentiments are woven into the foundation of Pain-2-Power because I have long believed that each of us—as an individual—has a purpose in this life and that each of us must identify it and act on it, in order to feel self-actualized and content.  Another reason each of us must identify and act upon our purpose in life is because we owe it to others.  The teaching you offer students, the art you create, the scientific inquiry you launch, the legal defense you mount for a defendant, the political campaign you wage, the doctoring you do, the family you raise, the religious mission you embark upon or the product you take to market are all offerings, provided they speak to your heart of hearts.

What’s more, the purpose we pursue in life can be pursued with more or less vigor.  And there is no reason to hold back.  Sure, it is normal to look for data supporting the notion that you are on the “right path.”  But, too often, even in the face of lots of such data, we doubt ourSELVES, when we should believe in ourselves.

Where does self-doubt come from?  Most often, it comes from the imperfect nature and suboptimal lessons taken from prior experiences and relationships.  Few among us are encouraged to express ourselves optimally.  Most of us have encountered some amount of negativity from others during our formative years.  That negativity, taken to heart, creates internal resistance to our own best possibilities.

It is also frequently the case that we misinterpret initial setbacks in pursuing our heartfelt goals as evidence that our goals are the wrong ones.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is common to encounter hurdles on the way to any finish line.  In fact, the bigger your dream the more likely that there will be setbacks on the way to achieving it.  Expect them.  Don’t be defeated by them.

Another quote may be helpful here, this one from Friedrich Holderlin, the German poet and philosopher:

If I step onto my misfortune, I stand higher.

Believe in yourSELF.  Believe in your dreams.  Pursue them with vigor.  Expect setbacks.  They are normal.  Reset and move forward, boldly.


Dr. Keith Ablow


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I AM: Why Self-Actualization is Sacred

Nothing is worth pursuing more than self-actualization.  If that sounds like I am suggesting selfishness, I am not.  Actually, the opposite is true.

You are not the only one relying on you becoming the person you were always meant to be.  Your true core passions, talents and goals are treasures not only for you to develop, but for others to benefit from.  If you are a writer not writing, an entrepreneur not creating companies, a painter not painting or a teacher not teaching, you aren’t just short-circuiting your own happiness and fulfillment, you are depriving others of what you would create, produce or deliver.

I would like to share the story of Moses at the burning bush—a bush afire yet not consumed by the flames.  God tells Moses that he has been chosen to lead his people out of Egypt, where they have been enslaved.  But Moses protests.  He explains he is inarticulate.  He confesses that he once killed a man.  Yet, God is undeterred.  He reiterates that Moses and none other is the person who will free his people from bondage.  When Moses asks who he should tell the Pharaoh has sent him on this mission, God replies that his name is “I Am.”  Others have translated his answer (from Hebrew) as, “He who is forever becoming who he is.”

In a real way, it certainly sounds like God is explaining that no one other than Moses himSELF is sending him on the mission to free his people.  He is becoming the person he is meant to be:  An agent for God’s intentions as a leader for the ages.

We are all agents for God’s intentions.  Every one of us.  None of us has any other name more true than I AM.  We grow into that name as we become SELF-actualized, and there is no greater nor more important journey in this world for any of us.  It is the Holy Grail.  It has miraculous powers because you are a miracle.

Today is the day to begin taking the journey to yourSELF, in earnest.  Are you ready?

I AM ready to make it happen with you.

Here’s the email . . . [email protected]

Dr. Keith Ablow


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So many of us try to live at a distance from our true emotions and our true goals.  But what happens when we try to live lives dodging the truth is that it gets harder and harder to keep that truth from surfacing.  We have to find ways to keep our minds from focusing on the facts about trouble we’ve lived through earlier in our lives or dreams we have left unfulfilled or relationships that are deeply flawed and in need of repair.  And that opens the door to using “shields” to keep the truth at bay—addiction to food, gambling, cigarettes, sex, endless hours working jobs that don’t speak to our hearts because our hearts are under wraps, romances that aren’t true love because they’re based on old and tired dynamics.

What a tragedy this is.  One of the reasons I love doing this work is that I’m convinced human beings are much more magical and moving than most of us know.  The emotional defenses—the shields—we use to obscure our personal truths end up obscuring the miraculous qualities that lie beneath those defenses: our God-given courage, compassion, devotion, trust and capacity to love.

Our emotional vulnerability is itself a rare gift.  Because without being vulnerable to sadness and disappointment and doubt, we would have no ability to truly experience their opposites:  joy, celebration and reassurance.

You are the one holding your particular shield.  And it only gets heavier with each passing day.  It saps your energy.  It steals your focus. And it cheats you of learning that you are far stronger, more courageous and more capable than you believe.  As long as you’re holding a shield, you’re living in fear.

In order to become the person you were meant to be from all time, you have to start putting down that shield.  You don’t have to drop it all at once, but you have to begin to lower it slowly.

The best way to go about this is to first identify the shield or shields you carry.  Here are some of the more common ones:

  • Overeating
  • Overspending
  • Obsessing over a romantic relationship
  • Obsessing over dieting
  • Obsessively exercising
  • Perfectionism
  • Staying online for hours
  • Gambling
  • Cigarettes
  • Alcohol
  • Drugs

If you lower your shield even a bit, your true passions and goals will have a chance to manifest themselves just a bit more.  Every small victory—one less cigarette, one night spent offline, one less drink—is a step in the direction of self-discipline, self-awareness, and genuine self-improvement.

Remember, it isn’t supposed to feel good when you start to lower your shield more and more.  Getting stronger never does.  The fact that you feel anxious or irritable or sad when you try to stop binging on sweets, or talking for hours on end with a friend about your love life, or cruising the Web until the early morning, is a sign that you are detoxing from the things that have been keeping you from the strongest version of yourSELF.

Dr. Keith Ablow


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How to Avoid Being Disempowered by Social Media

Facebook, Twitter and lots of other social media sites carry with them the risk of pushing people to cover up reality. Why?  Because they encourage people to trumpet their happy experiences and to streamline their life stories into pithy, exciting posts and videos that are rated by how many “likes” they get.  This encourages us to turn our real lives into mini-reality TV shows—and we should all know by now that reality TV is an oxymoron.  Nothing could be more fake than reality TV like “The Kardashians.”  At least fictional TV series admit that they are made up.

What’s the trouble with fashioning a fake version of yourself for Facebook or Twitter or  The trouble is that your true SELF immediately registers the disparity between your real circumstances and feelings and opinions and those that you generate only for popularity or attention.  And that space between what is truth and what is fiction is the breeding ground for anxiety and depression and SELF-doubt.

So, here’s the solution.  If you’re using social media (and I am, by the way), then make triply sure that what you post is not fabricated for “mass consumption.”  Only communicate your genuine opinions and feelings about your life and the world around you.  This probably means you’ll end up skipping some selfies that you admit to yourself are actually exaggerated attempts to show how much fun you’re having or how many nice things you have.  And it probably also means that you will be challenged to determine what you can post that is real and genuine.

What might such real, genuine posts include?

  • Heartfelt opinions about the world
  • Questions about life you find yourself facing and that you think others may struggle with, too
  • Quotes you love
  • Photos that truly move you
  • Books you read and enjoy
  • Poems you read and enjoy

The point is to ask yourself whether what you are posting is the equivalent of yelling, “Look at how great everything is, or whether what you are posting is the equivalent of saying, “It is what it is.”  If that doesn’t sound appealing, then you should wonder how much you’re relying on social media as a drug to elevate you above reality.  Using it that way can only hurt you, psychologically, in the long run.

One example of reality-based social networking is the President’s use of Twitter.  Now, lots of people find fault with President Trump’s Tweets.  I know that.  I’m not arguing here whether or not it is best for a leader to Tweet or not to.  But the President’s Tweets are shoot-from-the-hip missives.  And few people can doubt that he means what he Tweets.  He’s not looking to candy coat anything or make friends.  He’s expressing himself.

SELF is sacred.  The heart of my message is this:  Don’t let social media make you fictionalize who you are.  You are on a soulful journey through this life.  Sharing that real journey is brave and beautiful.

Dr. Keith Ablow


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The Sands Run Out

I don’t want to cause anyone any alarm today, but I do want to remind anyone who reads this blog that our time on this planet is not infinite.  That may seem obvious to you at this moment, but, trust me, the human mind does everything it possibly can to deny the fact that we are mortal.  That mercifully prevents us from panicking about whether we’ll suffer a catastrophic health event today or tomorrow, but it can also prevent us from living with clarity and intention.  

The fact is that we can actually decide to add meaning to our existences.  And meaning is essential to optimizing them.  Victor Frankl, the late and great psychiatrist, philosopher and writer who survived the Holocaust, put it this way:   

. . . The fact of being is always more powerful than the word.  And it [is] necessary, and will always remain so . . .

that each of us actualizes the content in our own act of being.

So why not take a few minutes to just sit quietly today—maybe right after finishing up reading this blog—and really think about whether you are doing the work in this world you were destined to do, whether there’s a creative project you really have truly wanted to embark upon, whether there’s someone you love who deserves more quality time with you or whether there’s someplace you have long hoped to visit?  

Let the thoughts sit with you a bit.  Let it be a beginning of forming real resolve to do that very thing you bring to mind.  And don’t forget to remind yourSELF that you don’t have forever to do it.  In fact, you don’t know whether you have a long time to do it or a short time to do it.  

Remember: Our lives are stories.  We’re “writing” our autobiographies every minute of every day.  The fact that the minutes blend into hours and days and weeks and months and years calls upon us to write and edit our stories with intention and, to the extent humanly possible, without delay.

That brings us to the next step.  After you summon thoughts about something you very much want to get done in this world, take one step to do it that very day—today, if you take my advice.  If it’s a phone call you want to make to someone important to you, make it.  If it’s a career path you want to pursue, order a book about the profession or register for a course to begin learning about it.  If it is painting your very first painting, buy the paints and canvas.  

I hope you will forgive me another J.D. Salinger quote from one of my favorite books, Franny & Zooey.  This one is from a scene in which Zooey is urging Franny to stop avoiding her acting talent.  It speaks for itself:

Somewhere along the line – in one damn incarnation or another, if you like – you not only had a hankering to be an actor or an actress but to be a good one. You’re stuck with it now. You can’t just walk out on the results of your own hankerings. Cause and effect, buddy, cause and effect. The only thing you can do now, the only religious thing you can do, is act. Act for God, if you want to – be God’s actress, if you want to. What could be prettier?

. . . 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.

Get busy.  That’s pretty much what I have been saying in less beautiful language.  I sure am glad J.D. Salinger got busy and wrote at least some of the books he intended to.

Dr. Keith Ablow


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I have had the incredible good fortune to listen to thousands of people tell me their most heartfelt thoughts on a whole range of topics.  Those insights are ones I like to share with others.  It makes them “go viral,” in a way.  And I hope they enrich your life as they have enriched mine.

One of the insights comes from having listened to men and women talk about their fathers and mothers (and grandmothers and grandfathers).  They often tell me about their careers and interests, but that never rises to the level of the most important information they want to share with me about them.

Without exception, the most important information men and women share with me about their fathers and mothers is whether they were convinced beyond any doubt that they were loved by them.  They talk about whether their parents showed up for them in various ways.  Yes, they remember—even decades later—whether their parents attended their games and performances and teacher conferences.  But they also remember whether they were listened to by them, whether they were hugged by them, whether they were made to feel worthy by them, whether they were allowed to develop into the people they were truly meant to be by them.

Notably absent from the heart of what my clients have conveyed to me during these 27 years working with them are reflections on whether their parents made lots of money or had prestigious jobs.  Those turn out to be mere footnotes in their minds.  Sure, they will remember—sometimes with sadness—if their parent suffered devastating financial reversals that impacted their lives dramatically.  Yet, even when sharing those traumatic circumstances with me, they will note whether a foundation built from the certainty that they were loved saw them through it.

I mean for this insight to be reassuring.  I mean for it to be clarifying.  If you love your kids deeply, they will know that.  I promise you.  If you picked them up and held them when they skinned their knees, they will forgive you lots of stumbles.  If you asked them their opinions as they grew up, they will let it slide when you are sometimes rash in your judgments.  If you made them feel sure that all they would need to do is to call you and that you would drop everything in a crisis for them, they will never forget.

In the end, what people register most deeply about their parents—years later or decades later—is one thing:  Love.  Did they feel it from you or not?  That’s a pretty good argument to let yourself tell them you love them and show them you love them.  Sometimes, that’s harder than at other times.  But it is always worth the effort.

By the way, expressing love turns out to be the currency of greatest value in lots of other situations, too—in connecting with friends, in sharing with partners why you love the business you’ve created together, in letting employees or coworkers know why you love what you do, in imbuing your artistic work with the absolute best you can summon from your core, in expressing your heartfelt views about this world we live in together.

Dr. Keith Ablow


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Byron Donalds is an Inspiration for All of Us


Last night, in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, Byron Donalds won the Republican nomination to run for United States Congress against Democrat Cindy Banyai.  That upcoming race aside, Donalds should be an inspiration to all Americans.

Donalds is a Black man with conservative values who was raised in Brooklyn, New York by a single mom who sacrificed again and again to give him opportunities.  As a younger man, though, he made a mistake.  He was arrested for theft and drug possession.  Then, Byron Donalds turned his whole life around.  In 2002 he graduated Florida State University with bachelor of arts degrees in financing and marketing.  He started a family, built a business and was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2016.  He focused his work at the state level on elder affairs, criminal justice reform, and working to allow every child in Florida access to a world-class education.  

Now, as I noted, Donalds is the Republican nominee for U.S. Congress from Florida’s 19th District.



That’s quite a journey to have taken in life.  It’s also quite an example for anyone who has ever encountered adversity, anyone who has ever made a mistake in life and anyone who hopes for a second chance to make a positive impact on the world.  

Byron Donalds is still only 41-years-old.  Just imagine how much he might achieve for others, despite being arrested.  

Have you made a bad decision?  Maybe more than one?  Have you found yourself thinking you’d never be able to make up for it and make great things happen?  Then, think, again.  Think about Byron Donalds, who I predict will be elected to the U.S. Congress on November 3, 2020.

Dr. Keith Ablow


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SPINE OF STEEL ~ Kathi Fairbend MS RPT


When the words “spine of steel,” are used to describe a person, they immediately conjure up images of an individual who is either very strong or unyielding or both.  Other descriptors that come to mind include self-confident, tireless, passionate and committed.

The description of someone as having a “spine of steel” isn’t issued frivolously.  Many times, the person using the words has come to deeply appreciate the qualities of the man or woman reinforced by steel.  A business partner may have shown courage in the face of adversity.  A fellow soldier may have displayed heroism even beyond the call of duty.  A leader may have stood up for valued principles. A friend or loved one may have somehow summoned the will to help a family member through trying times, like economic collapse or physical illness.

Almost always, the person who comes to know a man or woman with a “spine of steel” only sees a bit of the evidence that justifies those words.  Those with spines of steel don’t generally use them just once or only to help one person.  What any one observer is lucky to experience is just “the tip of the iceberg.”  

Those with a “spines of steel” not only love life, they are loving people.  Their empathy is displayed through spontaneous actions of kindness, loyalty and by “showing up.” 

A person cannot fake having a “spine of steel.”  The attempt to pose will, in and of itself, expose the poser.  That’s an essential element of the man or woman gifted with such a spine: It is their nature, their character, irrevocably—whether inborn or developed during life.  They are authentic.    

How does one develop a “spine of steel?” Often, it is by enduring painful experiences physically, financially, socially or in combat.  Faith in God builds and reinforces the spine of steel immeasurably. 

In seeking a spine of steel of one’s own it doesn’t hurt to work with, live with or be friends with someone who has one.  That’s because the spine of steel can lay dormant until kindled by example.

Ronald Regan once said,”Uncle Sam was an old man with a spine of steel, but with a mind, soul, heart and conscience.

The following individuals whom I have met in my own practice of physical therapy exemplify faith, love, feelings of self-worth and purpose. They enjoy life to its fullest, with  kindness and care for others.  They had or have spines of steel:

A past Harvard University ice hockey team captain was informed the day before his law boards that he had a neurological disorder and that his brain had already started to deteriorate.  He proceeded with a meaningful and successful life as a lawyer and an EPA regional director and enjoyed a family.  He became  a paraplegic sailing champion.  Just before his death 46 years later, though completely paralyzed, his concern was for his caretaker’s knee, “Who would be best orthopedic surgeon to care for her?” he asked me.

Another example was a young girl with a progressive blood pressure syndrome who collapsed whenever she stood up.  She graduated from the University of Chicago, walking around in a cage, the walls of her dorm room padded to avoid another fractured skull.  She gave into using a wheelchair for graduate education. Now, recently married, she enjoys a successful tutoring business from her home. 

I also recall a young girl who was bullied on the school bus in the 5th grade “for not having any bones.” She was courageous enough to say, “I have bones but no muscles.” In truth, her spine was structurally incomplete.  Yet, she has traveled, married, enjoys two children and a private social work practice.  She is loving, kind, always concerned about her friends, has a sense of humor, a sense of self and has faith.

It has been a privilege to meet inspiring people of this kind—people with spines of steel.  Have you met one or more?  Have you channeled their strength?  Have you thanked them for it?  Have you thanked God for them?  


Kathi Fairbend MS RPT

Author, Physical Therapy and Ergonomic Consultation

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Huh?  Find the pain to find your power?  What is that supposed to mean?

Here’s the quick explanation:  Whether you are seeking to live your life more effectively or lead a company more powerfully or pursue your creative interest with more passion, you need to tap into the truth buried in uncomfortable realities that the human mind tends to skip right over.

That’s understandable, right?  Who wants to dwell on negatives?  The problem is that skipping over the tough, complicated, even anxiety-provoking stuff will deprive you of at least three kinds of important knowledge:


  • What trouble might you have in bringing your goals and plans to fruition? What doesn’t “fit” with the optimistic view of your project or company or relationship or different path forward in life?  To fix these things, you must SEE them, not be in denial about them.
  • What problematic aspects of this situation reflect similar situations you have encountered in the past? Often, when we’ve lived through trouble spots, we don’t want to recall them.  But that can condemn you to repeating the past, rather than learning a lot from it and overcoming it (in a big way).
  • What difficulties do you accept as realities and how can they galvanize your courage and commitment to solve them?


Whether you are the founder of a new venture, a parent trying to shed the less admirable elements of parenting you yourself experienced or anyone trying to become the most powerful person you can possibly be, seeking out the painful aspects of the narrative—the story—at hand will greatly increase your chances of success.

Let’s take founding a new venture as an example.  It will pay extraordinary dividends to think about past partnerships and projects that did not go well.  Why?  Because you may well identify patterns of thought, emotion and behavior common to your participation in those projects that are worth avoiding this time.  These insights may lead you, for instance, to be more selective about who joins your new venture, how you convey your vision to those who come aboard or how you give them feedback.

The same process of inquiry—looking for the potential pain points and proactively solving for them—is also true when contemplating another marriage.

The same is true when thinking of how to manage your money.

The same is true when reaching out for a new friendship or attempting to repair one that has fractured.

Looking for pain points and solving them proactively is not the opposite of optimism; it is part of rational optimism.  Because it is testimony to your intention to actually make something work to bring into clear sight any hurdles hiding in the way.

Dr. Keith Ablow


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(Just a small start will do and yield big results.)

Let’s dispense up front with the idea that you would be reading these words for no reason.  That thinking negates the power of synchronicity in the world.  And synchronicity is very real.  Things happen because a myriad of variables have allowed them to unfold—a lot like the way the cylinders of a lock align.  Click. Click. Click.  You were meant to be reading this blog at this very moment.

This blog is different than some of my others because it directly challenges you to do one thing today to move in the direction of the truest SELF you know.  One thing.  No heavy lifting.  The real effort is defeating the resistance to becoming the most powerful person you can be.

There is resistance, by the way.  Why?  Because moving toward your purpose and potential in this world means engaging power you might never have deployed.  It’s a little like driving a very powerful car that you’re unsure of handling.  What if it careens off the road?  What if it attracts too much attention?  What if it takes you too far away from the more limited world you have known?

This resistance is all fear-based.  There is no truth to it.  Your purpose and potential are not a trap.  They are your destiny.

What step will you take today?  You might connect with an old friend you regret losing touch with.  You might sign up for a course related to a sincere interest of yours.  You might start writing down your idea for a business or the beginning of the summary of a novel or the first paragraph of the treatment for a movie.  You might join a gym.  You might schedule a weekend away so you and your spouse can remind one another you love each other.  You might invest in a company you keep being drawn to—or inquire about what jobs are open at that company.

Something may well have come to your mind.  Don’t dismiss it.  Embrace it.  Act upon it.

Beginnings have tremendous power in them.  Remember, yours is meant to be.

So . . . what will it be?  Today.  Even better, right this moment.  And . . . let me know what yours turned out to be by writing to me at [email protected] or sharing a comment below.


Dr. Keith Ablow