Everything is a Test

Life is a constant improvement process.  None of us is finished with that process or ever will be.  If you choose to embrace the idea, you can see every one of your challenges as a test—of strength, of resourcefulness, of resilience.

Seen this way, personal and professional hurdles and setbacks are opportunities to build, never to throw in the towel.  They are moments to dig deeper and find the resolve to continue on.  Tests aren’t meant to frustrate you or make you fail.  They are meant to make of you more than you were before.

It’s important when facing adversity in life to really believe, to the core of your being, that the tests you encounter aren’t meaningless arrows shot at you to take you down.  They are sent your way by God (or the universe, if you prefer) to kindle your empathy or insight or endurance or sense of self.  So it’s proper to wonder what will be required of you, in order to pass the test or meet the challenge.  And it’s proper to wonder why you are being forged into finer steel.

In the face of tests in life, these may, in fact, be the three questions to ask yourself:

  1. How will living through this leave me as a better person?
  2. What will be asked of me in the future, given the new qualities I develop?
  3. Who else can I help, even as I am in pain during this difficult time?

The third of the questions will help you meet every test in life knowing that your wounds and scars don’t label you; they anoint you.  Once you live through pain in life, you are that much more ready to be powerful in life.  Sound familiar?  Pain-2-Power.  That’s what life is all about.

There is responsibility that comes with living through painful pages and chapters of your life—living through tests.  The responsibility is to deploy the emotional, psychological and spiritual capital thus accrued, to improve the lives of others. You aren’t being transformed for nothing.

Seen this way, suffering has purpose and potential in it.  It isn’t pain, pure and simple.  It is a portal.  Pass through it, and you will be transformed, if you let yourself.

Let yourSELF.  I like capitalizing the SELF portion of the word because it speaks volumes about the journey we are all on.  There is inherent power in the self, because it is one-of-a-kind, inextinguishable and capable of extraordinary performance.  The SELF is what life tests actually refine and define and deploy.

How long does it take to become oneSELF?  A lifetime—or longer.  Because the SELF is connected with the source of everything.  And the journey to it is beautifully infinite.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

Want the Truth? Always Ask That Next Question

One of the most important skills I learned as a psychiatrist and now apply to my work as a personal and business coach/consultant is to ask the next question.  Because very often, when listening to a person’s life story or the story of his or her business, things don’t quite add up.  The narrative doesn’t really explain why the person made a particular decision or felt so strongly about an event that unfolded or left a relationship.  And it is far more common to feel that something seems to be missing from the story than to actually ask the next question to burrow toward the truth.  Being helpful to someone really means being a kind of detective—investigating his or her thoughts and emotions until enough information is unearthed for them to add up.

The classic detective who fit this mold was Columbo, played by the legendary actor Peter Falk.  Columbo would often scratch his head, then turn back to a person he was interviewing about a crime and say, “Forgive me.  I have just one more question, because I’m slow with this stuff, and what you said about the clock not running when you got to the apartment still doesn’t quite add up for me . . .”

See, Columbo was a burrower.  He had a sixth sense as a detective for when a narrative hadn’t quite reached the point where it proceeded logically from one detail, to the next, to the next, moving toward a rational, satisfying conclusion.

Satisfying is a good way to put it.  We all know that feeling when things make sense. And we know from math classes that we were tempted, at times, to say, “Yes, I get it,” when we didn’t really get it.  In running your life or running a business, that sense of unease, of things not clicking, is gold.  Because it should trigger you deploying your skills as a detective to ask the next question.  Be Columbo.

I still can’t quite grasp why I wasn’t told that we were running over budget?  I feel like you want to get onto the fact that we can make things right, but I feel uncomfortable skating over the data.  Why did you hold back on the information?

I’m still not hearing whether you think, in your heart of hearts, that the deal is worth pursuing.  What’s your honest opinion?

I know you’re saying you left home when I was a kid because things were “so complicated,” but that doesn’t feel like a complete answer.  Complicated, how?

When I asked how you felt when you went through that trouble, you said, “How does anyone feel?  Lousy.”  But did you feel angry or embarrassed or sad or what?  I’m really listening. 

Very often, people need you to be the detective in their lives.  They need that next question, in order to reveal who they are or what they care about or what they’re worried about.  Because people don’t generally rip their chests open and give you their hearts.  They need to know you want them to.  They need to know you won’t readily accept half-truths.  Then need an invitation to be more candid—with you and with themselves.

Give them the invitation.  Ask the next question.  Be the detective who burrows to the core of things, with courage and conviction and compassion.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

A Surgeon’s View of Trouble

Whether running a business, writing a novel or creating anything else, a surgical perspective is sometimes the one that makes the most sense.

Surgeons aren’t timid people.  They know a few things:

  • Restoring a body to health can require very bold and decisive action to get rid of its toxic parts.
  • Having to go back a second time is less good than getting clean margins the first time.

When you identify people or programs or products in your business that just aren’t working, they can often be salvaged (thankfully) by making needed changes.  But sometimes, they can’t.  And then, the surgeon’s view is the only one that makes sense.  Cut out what isn’t working.  Leave clean margins.

Surgeons aren’t hateful or violent people, by the way.  They are healers.  And taking bold, surgical action to restore health to the project, team or text you are championing or leading or editing isn’t unkind, either—when truly required.  It’s necessary.

Restoring something by cutting away part of it seems almost antithetical.  But, of course, it isn’t.  And knowing when it’s the only possible next step is a requirement for creators who want to be aligned with the truth.

Is there a distracting or destructive part of your life that needs to be jettisoned, instead of adjusted?  Is there a unit of your business that needs to be shut down, not revamped?  Is there part of the speech you’re planning to give that needs to be deleted, not moved down the page?  Are you sure?  If so, then, do it.  Because doing what is necessary is being decisive, not destructive.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

NEVER STOP

Sometimes, it’s as simple as embracing a mantra and then walking the walk.  NEVER STOP is a good one.  What I mean is that, after vetting a treasured goal of yours, you can resolve to never give up on it and never give in to those oppose it.

NEVER STOP is the antidote to despair.

First, select the goal.  It might be repairing a treasured relationship that has fractured.  It might be building a business that you are truly dedicated to.  It might be furthering your political beliefs.  It might be pursuing a career.

Make sure the goal is integral to your self-expression.  Make sure it is something you are truly passionate about.  Make sure you’re willing to take risks to pursue it.  Make sure, even, that it is essential to you feeling your life had the meaning you intended it to.  As Rainer Maria Rilke, author of Letters to a Young Poet, said about writing:

In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write? 

Rilke argued that if the question could be honestly answered, “No, I really don’t need to write,” then it was best to forget being a writer.  Now, that’s a very pure and unsparing view of the matter, but it does get one thinking.

Don’t embrace a NEVER STOP goal lightly.  Don’t half-mean it.  Do everything you can to resist self-doubt eroding it, to resist others trying to scare you away from it and to resist believing it has moved inextricably out of reach.  Until you decide the goal is unreachable, it isn’t.

Here’s a quote of Calvin Coolidge’s about persistence to keep close at hand:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
― Calvin Coolidge

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

USING PAIN-2-POWER AS PARENTS

THE FIRST STEP:  Describe one or more areas in which you feel you could be more effective as a parent.

When it comes to using Pain-2-Power as parents, the First Step is one in which you ask yourself, what is it we you most want to change about your relationship with your child or children?  It isn’t enough to say you want things to improve. Ask yourself how you want them to improve or what area of your child’s life you better want to understand.  Do you want more closeness, more obedience, less drama?  Do you wish that you could get past a specific event from the past that led to conflict between you?

Put your thoughts on paper and expand on whatever feels truest to you. What kind of fights happen a lot?  When things are tense between you, what is the point of tension?  You may feel like you have a million and one problems with your children, and that’s OK.  Many, many parents do.  But as you begin to think and write and then read what you’ve written, it’s likely one issue will initially stand out as the one that really nags at you or keeps you up at night, or seems to be the one that your son or daughter complains the most about, and that area is where you want to put your energy—at first. Later, you’ll identify other areas, and address them one by one.

Don’t worry that by choosing your first issue to focus on that you’ll be neglecting the others.  Think of whichever one you decide is the most pressing in your relationship as the door that leads you into the house of your truth.  It doesn’t matter how you enter, as long as you manage to get inside. Because once you start to move from room to room, you will eventually see the underlying emotions, fears and desires limiting the richness of your relationship with your child (or children).  And once uncovered, all those feelings and realizations can give you the key to understanding not only what the trouble really is, but how to fix it.

I believe problems are linked. When you start to uncover the roots anchoring the main problems in your relationship with your child, you’ll end up tracing the roots of other problems, too.

Here are some of the ways you might express a desire to parent more powerfully:

  • I wish my children felt safer turning to me for insight and support.
  • I wish my husband and I could be more of a united front when it comes to disciplining our children.
  • I wish that my child and I did not fight so much.
  • I wish that I were able to help my child do better in school.
  • I wish I were not so obsessively worried about the health and safety of my children.
  • I wish that I could help my son past the resentment he feels about my divorce.
  • I wish that I could help my daughter identify worthy goals that move her.

You definitely want to feel when you read your statement that it strikes you as real, and maybe even touches you emotionally. But your goal isn’t set in stone.  It isn’t crucial to identify the exact right issue or problem when you begin doing this work. What is important is you have decided to uncover the truth about why your relationship isn’t working ideally. Because uncovering the truth, choosing to be reflective rather than reactive, leads us to deeper truths. It leads us to question what we thought we wanted and needed as parents from ourselves and our kids, and to imagine positive changes.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

Check back soon for the next 7 steps of Pain-2-Power Parenting.  I’ll be adding a link to an e-book on the topic.

How to Learn from Past, Imperfect Romantic Relationships

Acknowledging or examining past failures in relationships is daunting for a few reasons.  First, pride gets in the way.  We’d like to believe that we were just unlucky in love, or victims of love gone awry.

The truth is, however, that we are always deeply involved in the success or lack of success of relationships. We’re not innocent bystanders.

As one man I counseled told me, as he prepared to divorce his fourth wife, “The first three, you swear it’s them.”

The deeper reason we are resistant to realistically examining our relationships is that today’s relationships are so often rooted in unexamined dynamics from earlier relationships in life.  They are a mirror of, or a kneejerk reaction against, the types of connections we had with parents, siblings, earlier lovers and friends.  So, looking at lost love brings up buried feelings about all kinds of losses—the perfect parenting we wish we had gotten, the losses we wish we could have avoided, the struggles we continue to face in our journeys to overcome the imperfect past and forge a more perfect future.

I tell people as often as I can that human beings overestimate the discomfort they will experience in understanding their life experiences, even back to very early chapters in their life stories.  The critical things to look at are buried six inches deep, not three feet.  They’re right over your shoulder, not lost in the rearview mirror.  And the relief and self-acceptance and empowerment that comes with knowing where you have been emotionally in life and where you intend to go is beyond imagination.

Our fears of reclaiming our life stories are paper tigers.  I have done this work for more than fifteen years.  I haven’t had a single person who has been weakened by looking at the truth about his or her life and sharing it with others.  Every individual—and there have been thousands—has been strengthened by the journey.

The truth always wins.  In other words, you can try to be someone you’re not.  You can try to hold up shields against your own internal truth.  But all you’re really doing is building an emotional fortress that turns into an emotional prison.  Once you start taking down the walls to your internal self, once you embrace who you have been and who you wish to become, others will, too.  And that kind of feedback will only strengthen your resolve to keep your heart open to who you really are and how everything you really can be—in life and in love.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

Martin Luther King Had it Right

Martin Luther King had it right.  So did Gandhi.  Theirs was an almost incredibly painful path to victory, but they were willing to endure any amount of pain to get there.  Peaceful non-cooperation with violence (or tyranny) cannot be defeated when its adherents will endure any amount of suffering to achieve their goals—when those goals are just.

“Re-run the tape” of the Capitol protest via peaceful non-cooperation with violence and you have hundreds of thousands standing or sitting peacefully in the way of anyone seeking to enter the Capitol, for days, for a week, for weeks, unwilling to leave until they are carried away or dragged away or beaten with clubs and evacuated to hospitals.  The spectacle of such persistence and passion would be a far more moving one than the spectacle of citizens climbing the walls of the Capitol.  The images of those willing to absorb any number of blows to defend freedom would be forever seared into the mind and soul of America.

Yes, this nation was born out of violence.  Yes, we were the terrorists who resisted the British.  Yet, there is another way.  It is a much, much harder way.  It is Martin Luther King’s way and Gandhi’s way and Christ’s way, and I would never prescribe it without acknowledging how difficult it is and how much focus, commitment and courage it takes.

No pain.  No power.

This is the path I would prescribe for Black Lives Matter or for Make America Great Again.  My own political views are not the point.  I am speaking here about the psychological forces set in motion by violent struggle versus non-violent struggle.  The latter can be just as disruptive, yet can claim higher ground morally and trigger tremendous empathy and even admiration from one’s opponents.  Frustration, yes.  Anger, yes.  But the addition of empathy and admiration can change, well, everything.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

How Can Ignoring Painful Memories Interfere with Someone’s Search for Love?

Real love requires two authentic people who are genuine with one another.  People bond most deeply when each of them is open to expressing what has really happened in their lives and how it made them who they are today.

Unfortunately, human beings have a kind of emotional Achilles’ heel.  So many of us believe that we will be most lovable if we seem perfect.  And this includes loving ourselves.  So, we raise all kinds of shields against our internal truths.  We cover up what we really felt in our families of origin, our deepest fears, our greatest dreams, the moments in our childhoods that sent our souls soaring and others that left us saddened or saddled with self-doubt.

When you don’t know yourself, you can’t find your match.  You’re doing constant false advertising, so those who respond to you will either be people looking for something very different from the person you are inside, or they’ll be intent on hiding their true selves, too.

People connect more through what difficulties they have survived or continue to face as what achievements or hobbies they could list on a resume or a typical dating site.  Sure, there’s some amount of discomfort when you look back with clear vision at your life, but it’s much less intense than the great sense of self that will make you love yourself and be compelling to others looking or love.

One of my clients who benefited from Pain-2-Power reasoning was a man named Frank who had been bullied as a child.  He was so intent on seeming tough and invulnerable as an adult, that he gravitated toward women who relied on him completely and who valued him for his physical strength.  But what he really needed was someone who could understand that his tough guy persona was just a shield, that he was a sensitive and loving and vulnerable person who had been chased into a suit of armor.

Once Frank was willing to think about being bullied as a kid and feel his anxiety about that period in his life, he started to open up about that pain with others, too, including women.  He began attracting women who were nurturing, as well as admiring of his strength.  And he found someone to truly love who didn’t expect him to keep wearing his suit of armor.

How about you?  Are you hiding your true self so well that no one can love the true you?

 

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted

Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.

–George Addair

 

You know, it could be that simple.  We humans experience worry, anxiety, embarrassment and self-doubt.  Those very understandable emotions all fall under the broad category of fear.

So, what are we really most afraid of?  Well, one of the chief things is being wrong about the quiet voices that tell us about our greatest purpose and potential on this planet.  We worry (too often) that embracing those voices as real will end up taking us down a path toward humiliation; that we’ll fall short, fail and be humiliated.  This fear kills great books, transformational businesses, life-saving discoveries and true love before it can even begin.

But what if we allowed ourselves to be more afraid of not embracing those voices?  What if we thought of our lost potential for not trying more seriously than our potential losses after trying? We would free ourselves to move in the direction of our dreams.

What else are many, many people afraid of?  Death.  We’re so afraid of it, in fact, that we fail to embrace life—as though not starting our life stories, in earnest, will mean that we never have to finish the stories.  Translation:  If we never live, we’ll never die.  That’s hardly true.  And it’s hardly a bargain anyone would want to make, anyhow.

Here are the two big risks you should fear in life:

  • Not following your dreams and moving toward them.
  • Not accepting mortality and, therefore, not living life with passion, purpose, love for self and love for others.

Everything else is secondary.

I suggest reading this blog daily, if you haven’t created a mission statement for your life yet.  Then, create that mission statement and start moving toward it.

Dr. Keith Ablow

    

You Can Become More Powerful Than Ever

You can be more powerful than ever.  These are more than pretty words.  They’re the truth.  How can I be so sure?  For one thing, if you’re still reading this, you’re not convinced it is impossible to become stronger than you have ever been.  Were you, you wouldn’t have even gotten past the title.  You certainly wouldn’t go on to the paragraph following this one.  So . . . if I haven’t lost you yet, that’s because you suspect that the best chapters of your life story can still unfold—and you’re right.

How can that happen?  There are a number of ways.  Let me outline a few.

 

It is Very Possible that You Have Not Yet Expressed One of Your Core Talents:

Most people are made anxious by the depth of passion they feel for one of their gifts.  It can be leadership or creativity or financial or technological prowess.  That anxiety can stand in the way of self-expression, but only until the gift is uncovered and the anxiety is managed.

Other people are also made anxious by your gift.  And that’s usually because they are not in touch with their own.  Your underlying potential is an uncomfortable reminder of their own.  Once these detractors are recognized as untrustworthy, you become more courageous in pursuing your dream or dreams.

 

It is Very Possible that You are Not Living Your Own Life

What do I mean?  How could that be?  Think of a Venn Diagram.  None of us is a perfect circle.  We are eclipsed (the shaded area of two overlapping circles) by the actions and opinions of others, including parents, spouses, friends and colleagues.  This can be so much the case that one is not, for all intents and purposes, living one’s own life.  Too little of our own circle is unshaded.

The beauty of realizing this is that it is relatively easy to identify who the encroachers are.  In so doing, clarity begins to take hold.  More and more territory of the self is reclaimed.  And the self is very powerful; it shines very brightly as soon as it is no longer eclipsed (or not eclipsed so much).

 

There is Magic in a Team of Two Dedicated to You Becoming More Powerful

It’s tough to see yourSELF.  Think, again, of the anxiety involved and the shading involved.  Having someone on your team of two who is trained to see you and to help usher you “into the light” is a very wise way to proceed.  If that sounds like a sales pitch for me or for Pain-2-Power, it is and it isn’t.  Yes, I love doing this work and think you should proceed with it.  But, no, it really doesn’t matter to me who you do it with, provided that person is able to make it happen.  I know I can.  There are others who can, as well.

 

Pick your partner.  Get started.  And don’t stop short of actualizing your core gift and reaching your most treasured goal.

Dr. Keith Ablow