TWENTY WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFE IN 2020

Beginning in 2015, I began publishing a list of ways to improve your life. Last year, as 2019 debuted, I published, “19 ways to improve your life.” The year before that, I published “18 ways to improve your life.” You get the idea. The tradition continues this year, with the addition of No. 20. And, just like last year, I’ve added bits and pieces to some of the 19 earlier items.

New Year’s resolutions often lose their power so quickly and completely that they have become cliché. But there are real, easily achieved ways to positively impact your life beginning this first week of January.

Here’s your cheat sheet of 20 for 2020. They aren’t in any particular order, so you can pick any one to start with.

If you complete just five, you’ll notice a demonstrable improvement in your existence. But if you get through nine of them, you could remake your life.

1. Try to recall one dream you had as a kid – whether it was being a poet or a rock drummer or a multimillionaire stock trader – and take just a single step in that direction. So often, the ideas we had as children were good ones, and we abandoned them out of fear. The step in the direction of your childhood dream can be very modest – signing up for a symposium on poetry, scheduling a single drum lesson, or buying a DVD on stock trading. Even just telling two people about your quiet dream can move it forward. Frozen dreams have a way of thawing out rapidly when you warm them just a tiny bit.

You’ve got to expect that your dream might well wrestle with you to remain just a fantasy. We resist our dreams because fully embracing them provokes anxiety – like jumping onto a raft that will take you down thrilling, but heart-stopping rapids. Your dream could argue that you should put it off until later, or that it’s entirely irrational, or that you don’t have the energy or the time or the money to pursue it. Don’t expect to feel great taking the first step in the direction of your dream. Take that step, in spite of your anxiety.

2. Think of your life story, going all the way back to infancy, as an autobiographical book that you can hold in your hands. Now, imagine which page or paragraph you are tempted to tear out and remove from the story. That page or paragraph might be the one that makes you feel profoundly sad or powerless or guilty or ashamed. Next, share it with someone who knows you well but has never heard about that event or phase in your life. Being willing to disclose the events in life we want to turn a blind eye to takes away the power those events have over us.

You can’t be loved unconditionally, especially by yourself, if you think some part of you or what you lived through is too dark to bring into the light.

3. Give a meaningful gift to a friend of yours on a random day – not his birthday or her anniversary or Christmas. Giving gifts on those days is fine, but that isn’t the same as an unexpected, unscheduled gift. Those are the ones that feel riskier to give and have more power to bond you to others who receive them. And that’s because they’re real and independent expressions of friendship, affection, admiration or love.

Giving gifts has an interesting side effect; you’ll feel wealthier, even though you’ve just spent a little money. Why?  Because human beings either feel bountiful or barren. Giving of yourself doesn’t deplete you. It fills you up.

4. Send handwritten notes to three people you admire most in the world, no matter how powerful or famous, tell them sincerely exactly why you admire them and ask to meet for 10 minutes. There’s a real chance one of them will take you up on the offer. And that one meeting could change you, because great energy is contagious and being in the company of it can stay with you.

Very few people actually reach out, personally, for help from those who can give it the most. Do you know why?  They worry they’ll be rejected or made fun of. But think about it. If you have no attachment to the outcome of your note-writing campaign, if you understand from the get-go that you may receive no replies to your three notes, then there’s really no risk. Here’s another hint:  You could send out 50 of them. Or 100. And there’s no rational reason not to.

5. Give some amount (no matter how small) to the charity you care most about. As I said above, giving is a miracle, because it helps others while also telling your unconscious mind that yours is a life of abundance, not scarcity. And that invites more treasures into your existence. Here’s one I just gave to, which I happen to know is completely legit and does great work, the Warrior Reunion Foundation Here’s another one I’m giving to today: www.barnsanctuary.org.

6. Stop telling yourself you love people just because you grew up with them. This is a big one, but a really important one. Did your parents and siblings earn your love by unconditionally loving you as a child? If so, great. But if you’ve been wishing that had been the case and have felt unwilling to let the dream of having had unconditionally loving parents or siblings slip away, then loosen your grip. If the people you grew up with weren’t focused on helping you stay true to yourself, then admit it to yourself. You might stop unconsciously recruiting people just like them into your life.

Here’s the key question:  Who has loved you and who has been attached to you? Loving you requires the intent to know you as an individual and to honor and foster your uniqueness. Attachment can feel very powerful, but it is closer to owning you than celebrating you.

7. Schedule an initial life coaching, counseling or psychotherapy session. These are the gold standard ways to begin to get to become the person you were always meant to be. In a world of distractions and depersonalization, these are professions reliably focused on restoring your connection to your true self and your full potential. Hopefully, that first session will convince you of the power of teaming up with a coach or counselor to change your life, and you’ll schedule more. No one with the financial ability to do so should deny himself or herself that transformational opportunity.

One caveat: Not every coach, counselor or psychotherapist would be a good fit for you. Some aren’t a good fit for anyone, because they aren’t very talented. If your first session leaves you cold, try scheduling one more with someone else. The first counselor I went to wasn’t worth my time or my money. The second one utterly changed my life.

8. Get angry about something unfair, say so out loud and don’t stand for it. Anger gets a really bad rap in our culture; it’s accused of everything from destroying people spiritually to causing heart attacks. But suppressed anger can be more toxic. When you’re offended by something you hear about in the news or you see unfolding in your personal life, try saying so, in no uncertain terms, when you’re asked about it – or maybe even if you aren’t. For those of you who have been living lives of quiet frustration, letting yourselves be very direct and very mad about something that sincerely outrages you can start to crack the shell that has your most powerful self inside it.

Here’s one of my favorite Bible verses: Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? Galatians 4:16 King James Version (KJV)

9. Take two minutes to think about life as a labyrinth. Mazes are built to frustrate people and get them lost. They’re full of dead ends designed to make people give up and call for helicopters to pluck them out. Not so with labyrinths. Labyrinths may wind this way and that way. They may take you far from where you thought you were heading. But they always, always lead to the center. And that’s what life is like. Keep walking, keep your faith and life will take you where you are supposed to go. The turn toward the center could be just a few steps away, when you least expect it.

Now, keep this in mind, too:  You don’t get to choose the day or week or year that turn toward the center happens. It could be tomorrow or it could be many tomorrows from now. The point is to know that it is coming, not to know when.

10. Try praying, at least once. If you haven’t prayed ever or haven’t prayed lately, you’ll discover that the act of praying for what you care deeply about has the effect of reminding you what that thing or those things really are. It also has the effect of reminding you that there is a great power in the universe that you are a part of. There’s something interesting about praying; even people who say they don’t believe in God are loathe to pray for the opposite of what they really want. How come? Is it because that, underneath all that cynicism, they actually do believe?  I recently completed my graduate certificate in pastoral counseling at Liberty University.  The power of prayer has never been clearer to me.

11. Read “Franny and Zooey” by J.D. Salinger, “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, “Self-Creation” by the great psychologist George Weinberg (used copies available online), “Blue Dog” by George Rodrigue, “Fear God and Take Your Own Part,” by Theodore Roosevelt, “Zen or the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig, or “The Betrayal of the Self” by Arno Gruen (or, even better, all seven). These seven volumes have the power to transform people, and I keep handing them out to patients and friends (along with – please forgive the narcissism – my book, “Living the Truth”). If you’re really short on time or intention, just read the Afterword to a later edition of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

12. Buy one piece of original art. It doesn’t need to be expensive. It just needs to appeal to you. Why? Because art is the antidote to our sometimes sterile, technologically driven culture. It makes humanity go viral in a way that YouTube can’t. It also confirms your connection to things that can’t be measured – like your personal vision of beauty. A good alternative is to create a piece of art. Just be sure to buy yourself the proper brushes or paints or glue or wood to create it. That will be a signal to yourself that you value what you are manifesting.

13. Watch the movie “Miracle,” with Kurt Russell. This film about the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team defeating Russia’s team is so good, it can convince you to take on the next great challenge in your life. I don’t know anyone who has watched it and been unaffected by it. Also watch the closing argument by Paul Newman at the end of the film “The Verdict,” the scene of Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire on the beach in “Rocky III,” the monologue by Al Pacino toward the end of the film “The Scent of a Woman” and any performance of “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood. They can help make you a better person. No kidding.

14. Tell your romantic partner one thing you would find exciting that you have not yet told that person. In my experience as a therapist, I’ve found that people can remain strangers to one another, in terms of passion, even after 10 or 20 years of marriage. We keep secrets. Let one out. You can write it down and pass it to your partner as a note, like we did back in grade school, before cell phones. See what happens. Take the risk.

15. Stand up for someone else. You’ll have the opportunity this year. I promise. Maybe in your home. Maybe in your neighborhood. Maybe at work. Maybe online. Defending someone will reassure that person and empower you.

16. Take 20 minutes to pretend that you are speaking to yourself, from the heart, as though you are your own ideal parent. You can do this out loud, if you have the stage presence, or silently. An ideal parent is empathetic, but honest in assessing his or her child and giving that child advice. Sit yourself down, get very quiet and, then, tell yourself – with the same care you would summon for a son or daughter – two things you really admire about yourself and one very limiting, very disappointing thing about yourself you really wish you would try to change, because it could limit the whole rest of your life. That one thing should be so on-target and so necessary that it has the power to make you angry, make you anxious, bring you to tears or bring you to your knees. Focusing longer (say, 15 minutes) on the admirable qualities is something you’d do for your kid, to take the sting out of the next 5 minutes, so do that for yourself. And keep in mind that 20 minutes is a long time. You’ll be tempted to avoid it or shorten it. But you shouldn’t.

17. If you are a parent, resolve to mimic a habit I stumbled upon when my kids were younger. It really helps me stay balanced during times that might otherwise cause me lots of stress. Here it is:  Whenever I get a phone call or an email or a text from someone telling me a project of mine or a goal or a relationship has hit a rough patch, I tell myself silently: “Yeah, well this isn’t like a pediatrician calling me.” What I mean is that, short of bad news about a child of mine, coming from a pediatrician (or, if your kids are older, like mine, an internal medicine doctor), nothing can really rock me. Because all of us parents know exactly how much time we would have for what seem like the big problems of our day or our week, if the phone rang, and a doctor on the other end said something like, “Can I ask where you are? Because I’ve seen your son, and I have something serious to talk with you about. I’d like you to come in.” I’d have no time for all my other so-called problems, and neither would you. So, things are actually better than we actually realize, most all of the time.

18. Remind yourself that neither you, nor I, nor anyone else is assured of another New Year’s Eve. I know that may sound morbid, but it’s also true. This could be your last year. It could be my last year. Don’t deny that fact, embrace it. Try waking up as many days as you can thinking to yourself, “If I can leave a bit of a positive mark today, I will.”  Maybe it will be as simple as listening a little longer to someone than you might be inclined to. Maybe it will be complimenting someone who deserves it. Maybe it will be calling an old friend to tell her you were thinking of her. We are all a series of thousands of actions. Every single one of them matters. And there’s no way of knowing when we won’t have another chance to add to the list.

19. Write out a thoughtful, healing, motivating message to yourself and read it every morning.  Your journey through life is an ongoing one, but it also begins anew each waking day.  Reminding yourself of the grand roadmap you intend to travel can create a silent and powerful narrative that plays at the back of your mind, coaxing you toward higher self-esteem—and your dreams.

20.  Think of one person you respect or like a whole lot, whom you’ve lost touch with.  Get back in touch, by the end of the day on January 8.  That gives you a week to reach out—by email or text or, even better, by writing a letter or calling on the phone.  Chances are that the person you select is someone you’re “supposed” to be back in touch with. Why?  Because you’ll have chosen him or her, and the universe is a lot less random than you might think.  One other thing:  Let the person know that he or she was your first choice of 2020—of everyone possible—to reconnect with.

 

So, there are your 20 keys to making 2020 a transformational year. As I did last year, I give them to you with the certain knowledge that you still have, inside you, all the wonderful potential you did the very first day you were born. You haven’t lost one bit of it. It’s all there, just waiting for you to discover it.

Don’t delay. Start on the list today, and by this time next year, God willing, you’ll be ready for the 21 steps for 2021. Life is like that: a never-ending process of self-improvement.

 

–Keith Ablow, MD

Keith Ablow is the Founder of www.theablowcenter.com and www.keithablowcreative.com.  Contact him at [email protected].

 

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Developing True Free Will

After 25 years practicing psychiatry, almost as many testifying in criminal trials and about a year now working as a spiritual counselor and life coach, I feel I have a lot of data about how free will really works. Here’s the headline: True free willisn’t nearly as common as most people think.  If you want to be one of those who really has it, you’ll probably need to do some work.

 

Defining True Free Will 

Free will is not just freedom to decide.  Free will really only operates when a person is making decisions based on his or her true character, real underlying desires and a focused view of the choices and challenges at hand.  In order for that to be the case, lots of patterns of emotion and behavior that operate as reflexes rooted in the past have to be neutralized.

 

Here are two examples:

 

  • Let’s say you always felt slighted, compared to your two siblings. You felt that your parents asked more of you or celebrated you less.  It’s then entirely possible that you will have an exaggerated response to an employer or partner or friend who seems to be leaning on you or to be favoring someone other than you.  You’ll be the one “choosing” to walk out on the job or go to war with your partner or sever your friendship, but it won’t be a choice made with true free will, because it will have been fueled by old interpersonal dynamics that never got cleared out of your mind, heart and soul.

 

  • Or, let’s say you were always told as a child that pursuing your artistic dream was a fantasy which, if taken seriously, would lead you into poverty. You have “chosen” to keep working in the software industry, based on leftover fears, instilled in you way back in childhood.  That isn’t true free will, either.

 

Again, true free will is the freedom to decide based on who you trulyare, what you trulywant and how you would trulyreact, without the undue intrusion of past chapters of your life story.

 

Developing True Free Will

The only way to develop true free will is to identify those old emotional reflexes for what they are—leftovers from past dramas that don’t serve the present moment, at all. Once they are identified they can be cleared out and then no longer contaminate today’s decision-making.

How can you do this?  How can you rid yourself of the old patterns still in control of the choices you make, old patterns that obliterate true free will? There’s one gold standard way:  Counseling, psychotherapy or life coaching that challenges you to shed past habits of thought and behavior, in favor of purer ones that tap into true intention. Today’strue intention.

 

Why Does True Free Will Lead to Real Success?

Exercisingtrue free willis, in fact, the only way to achieve genuine success.  Why?  Because true free will is a reflection of one’s true self, which is a gift from God or the Universe, however one may see it. True free willautomatically taps into your true passionand true personal power.  You automatically choose to pursue your real dreams and stand for your true ideals and take the right risks, because they come from your core, not from your rote reactions to old intrusions upon you as a child or adolescent or young adult.

 

Some of these themes are central ones in my book, Living the Truth.

 

The Ablow Center and True Free Will

In a way, the chief mission of The Ablow Center is to restore true free willto clients, to leave them unencumbered by the agendas of others, exercising their real intentions, pursuing their real dreams, saying what they really mean and entering into relationships they really want.  Maybe that’s why clients of The Ablow Center have, in just the last 30 days, released a new album, published a new book, launched a new Internet startup, opened a new restaurant and recruited an investor to take their business to a whole new level.  It’s a lot less likely that clients will be depressed or anxious or sleepless or distracted or overweight or using substances, by the way, when wielding their true free will.

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Founder, The Ablow Center

 

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HOW TO SURVIVE ANYTHING

A Gift from The Ablow Center this Holiday Season

All human beings have to survive pages or chapters of their life stories that bring sadness, challenges to self-esteem or even questions about how to go on.  No one gets through life without such events or phases, sometimes prolonged ones.  How can these darker threads of life get woven into the fabric of our existences and still yield vibrant patterns?

Writing on this topic at Christmas (or Hanukkah, for that matter) might seem odd.  After all, everyone is supposed to be celebrating the holidays and feeling joy, not dwelling on past or present pain.  But the truth is that for millions of people, holidays also bring up lots of memories that aren’t joyous, including those about losing loved ones. And the lights of the holidays can cast long shadows in the lives of those who feel as though they shouldn’t or can’t dwell on darker thoughts.

What better time could there be, actually, to think about the will to survive than on Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is resurrected on Easter? What better time could there be to think about the will to survive than on Hanukkah commemorating the victory of the Maccabees to re-establish their right to worship as Jews?

These are stories of confronting adversity, yet being reborn, of confronting oppression, yet fighting through to freedom.

So, for those whose holidays are times when they find themselves searching for strength, not just celebrating, here are hints of ways to survive anything.

 

  • First, find your faith. No matter what your religion is, or even if you don’t worship as part of one of the large, organized religions, finding faith means believing—or just beginning to believe—that every single event in your life can be used to make you a more giving and powerful person.  Every event is part of a plan for you, as an individual, that isn’t meant to hobble you, but to make your life story, ultimately, one of triumph.  In our losses we have the opportunity to become more loving.  In our challenges we have the opportunity to find more courage.  In what seem like our defeats are the opportunities to build our resilience.

 

  • Second, become vigilant for opportunities to turn your faith into concrete actions.I promise you that there is more organization to the universe than many people suspect.  There is more organization to your life than you may suspect.  Look for moments to turn adversity into power, and you will find them.  This is the nature of resurrection.  Christ’s death on the cross was not the end; it was the beginning of a miracle that transformed countless lives.  You, too, will be resurrected, but you have to look for opportunities to make that happen. Your destiny still awaits you. Do not dismiss people you meet who want to listen to your story or who have a similar story.  Do not dismiss what seem like coincidences or bridges too far—meeting someone or reading about someone starting a business like one you’ve always thought about building, feeling a tug of affection for someone after losing a spouse or divorcing, a thought that enters your mind about writing a book about your experiences.  These are just a few examples of innumerable ones that might unfold.

 

  • Third, don’t go it alone. Whether you reach out to a member of the clergy, a counselor, a life coach, a psychiatrist or a psychologist, please consider teaming up with someone as you confront adversity.  Teaming up allows for your vision of the future to be kindled by someone else’s. It can really help to be listened to, but also to hearwhen someone thinks you should take needed actions to fuel your perspective, increase our momentum or honor your potential.

James Joyce, the great writer and literary critic, put it very well in his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

 

“To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!”

 

Merry Christmas.  Happy Hanukkah.  Onward . . .

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Founder, The Ablow Center

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WHY A DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY CONSULTANT COULD BE THE KEY TO RECOVERING

Are you still feeling low?  Still feeling anxious?  It may have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the treatments being offered to you.  Believe it or not, having a personal health careconsultant on your treatment team could make the difference.

Research shows that up to 70 percent of people being treated for depression have still not recovered three months later.  One study found that only 22 percent of those treated for depression by their primary care doctors were rid of their symptoms.

In the case of anxiety, the most optimistic assessments (PsychiatryAdvisor) estimate the percentage of those who do not respond to the usual treatments at 30 percent.

Experts believe, however, that a huge part of the problem with not recovering from depression and anxiety may be due to causes of these symptoms that go undiscovered by health care providers or effective treatments that are never offered.  This is why a personal depression and anxiety consultant could be critically important.

 

WHAT IS AN A DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY CONSULTANT?

 A depression and anxiety consultant is a combination coach and researcher who is extremely knowledgeable about your particular symptoms of depression or anxiety (or both) and who is also very knowledgeable about the variety of treatments available to make those symptoms go away. He or she would interview you and maintain contact with you, review your medical records, make you aware of treatment choices that may have been overlooked in your case and even potentially communicate with your psychiatrist or psychologist to help access new and effective forms of treatment.

 

WHAT AREAS MIGHT A DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY CONSULTANT FOCUS ON?

Here is just a sampling of areas commonly overlooked by mental health care providers:

 

  • An underlying medical illness (such as a thyroid condition or sleep apnea or Lyme Disease causing low mood or anxiety).
  • Vitamin or mineral deficiencies causing low mood or anxiety (and comprehensive ways to test for such deficiencies).
  • Genetic testing to determine if certain antidepressants or anti-anxiety agents are less likely to work for you.
  • Newer antidepressant/antianxiety medications that are superior.
  • The benefits of certain vitamin supplements that can be as effective as antidepressants or can addto their effectiveness.
  • The availability of newer technologies to treat depression and anxiety, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (Brainsway), bright light therapy and ketamine infusion therapy (Neuragain).
  • The availability of home devices to help treat depression.

 

Here’s one of my own client’s experiences, changing the name and some demographic information, of course, for anonymity’s sake:

George was a 32-year-old man who had experienced severe symptoms of major depression for the past 3 years.  His psychiatrist and psychologist had tried a combination of medications and psychotherapy, but George’s symptoms persisted.

When I was asked to work on his case (not as his doctor, but as his personal consultant), I immediately noted that the four antidepressants that had been tried in George’s case were all very similar, pharmacologically.  They all affected the serotonin system in the brain, but left the norepinephrine system largely untouched.  I raised the issue of trying a newer antidepressant that would increase the activity of bothneurotransmitters.

Before any change would be made, however, I made his psychiatrist aware of Genesight testing which would be able to determine if the new medicine was one that George would metabolize properly.

George improved, somewhat, on the newer antidepressant (which was among those cleared by the Genesight test), but he still wasn’t 100 percent.  That’s when I made his psychiatrist aware of the role that curcumin can play in alleviating depression.  Adding curcumin was helpful to George, as well.

Finally, in George’s case, his psychiatrist agreed with me that trying bright light therapy could impact George’s symptoms. And once George added that simple technology to his regimen, he rated his mood at 90 percent.

I also noted that George had never been tested for Lyme Disease and that he had no MRI on file.  His psychiatrist and internal medicine doctors ordered those tests. Luckily, the tests were normal.

Here’s the bottom line:  The number of patients who are being treated inadequately, despite the availability of very effective treatments for depression and anxiety is staggering.  So, when months or years pass without improvement, or without complete improvement, investing in a personal depression and anxiety consultant can make all the difference in the world.

If you or a loved one needs me as a depression and anxiety consultant (or a consultant on any psychological/psychiatric disorder), simply contact me at [email protected] or call

978-462-1125.

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Founder, The Ablow Center

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EXPLAINING EMOTIONAL PAIN IS NOT COMPLAINING

Do you think it means you’re weak if you share your pain?  You’re not alone.  Some of my counseling and coaching clients are stoic types who are very hesitant to connect the painful, early chapters of their life stories with the difficulties they are encountering in the present.  They don’t want anyone to think they’re making excusesfor their current struggles with mood or anxiety or relationships or a profession.  Even when they survived cruelty or abandonment or experienced very significant losses as children or adolescents, lots of people have told me they feel like they’re complaining if they make a connection between the trouble back thenand the trouble right now.

Well, here’s the truth:  It takes courage to connect the dots and trace your current struggles back to their roots.  It isn’t complaining about what you now face.  It’s part of explainingwhat you now face.

Here are some examples:

  • A man in his 40s had trouble figuring out why he was risk-averse and had passed up some very good opportunities that weren’t “sure things.” Amazingly, he never connected his reluctance to take risks with the fact that his father had passed away shortly after starting a business with two of his friends when my client was just 10 years old.  For my client, being bold was connected with death—literally.  Once we made that connection, he felt like a massive resistor had been removed from his decision-making process.  We had explained his fear of any risk.

 

  • A woman in her late 30s had married one weak man after another. Three short-lived marriages ended when she realized she was more like a parent in the relationships than a spouse.  She never connected her choice of men to the fact that her father was domineering man who unduly influenced her career path, among other things.  She wasn’t likely to ever risk being in a family with another powerful man, so she chose weak ones—until we explainedher choices by connecting the past with the present.

 

  • A woman felt her mood and energy plummet when her daughter turned 11. She was the CEO of a bank and had to take a leave of absence.  She hadn’t considered the fact that her sadness at losing one of her best friends when shewas just 11-years-old was being rekindled by her daughter reaching that age.  Once we explainedher sadness and fatigue by connecting the past with the present, they began to go away.

 

Explaining isn’t complaining.  It’s the opposite.  Only strong people are willing to do the hard work of connecting early life experiences with the ones that are troubling them today.  And the strength to do so pays big dividends, because it frees people to live powerfully in the present, rather than being hostage to the past.

There’s a very good reason to explain the roots of your recurring or chronic emotional pain, by the way.  Eventually, if you don’t, it will become debilitating.  The walls we build psychologically to keep our pain under wraps may start out as the walls of a fortress, but they always end up as the walls of a prison that keeps us away from our best intentions, most ambitious goals and capacity to love ourselves and others.

The idea that if you revisit troubling pages from your early history that you will become stuck there also is a myth. Revisiting them allows you to move past them.  Until you do, those pages will be your future, too.

Remember, human beings don’t really connect with other people by sharing all of their triumphs.  They connect with other human beings by being willing to share their struggles.  And you can’t really share what you’ve survived and how you’ve thrived, amidst adversity, if you can’t bear to look back at the earlier chapters in your life story for what they really were.

For anyone who wants to delve deeper into these topics, two of the books I wrote address them:

And, as always, for anyone who wants to take overcome today’s challenges and set the stage for tomorrow’s successes, contact me at [email protected].

 

Keith Ablow, MD

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MY FIRST DAY PROVIDING FREE CARE FOR VETERANS THROUGH #HELP22

Friday, November 22 was the first day I devoted to #HELP22, the initiative I started with Commander Kirk Lippold USN (Ret) and public relations professional Christian Josi. #HELP22 is our response to this startling and tragic fact:  As many as twenty-two veterans take their own lives every day.

I pledged to spend the 22ndof each month providing counseling to any veteran, free of charge.  As we build #HELP22, my hope is that other counselors, life coaches, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and clergy members around the country will do the same.  We plan to recruit them and organize them.

On Friday, I spoke with veterans from multiple branches of the armed forces, and I was humbled by what I heard.  These individuals devoted themselves to our freedom, despite the gravest of risks. Many of us can’t imagine leaving our loved ones, leaving the country and putting our lives on the line to defend freedom, but these individuals did just that.  They lost dear friends who fought alongside them.  They bore witness to acts of violence that, thankfully, most of us will never have to confront.  They were themselves injured.  They saw civilians killed by the enemy—especially civilians who aided our cause for freedom.

Not one person I spoke to on Friday asked for any sympathy, by the way.  There was not one ounce of self-pity expressed.  None.  They simply wanted to be heard.  They wanted to share the roots of their pain, not to complain about it, but to explain it.   Because that opens the door to the workings of human empathy.  And empathy, properly harnessed, is one of the greatest healing forces in the world.

When you are a good and decent person and your self-concept is that of a leader, and you inevitably lose men under your command, it can cut you to the core.  And the bleeding from that psychological wound can be hard to stop. But witnessing it, as a fellow human being trained in the listening arts, can begin to heal it.

When you are so heroic that you are willing to live in a Vietnamese village, alongside American sympathizers and then learn that, after your departure, the village has been burned to the ground by the enemy, and that dozens have been killed, you need someone to hear you out.  Because your story is too much to carry in your own soul, alone.

The fact that the men and women who risked their lives doing the work of defending America and her allies should find themselves in such desperation that they take their own lives is a cruel irony.  #HELP22 will never be, of course, a complete solution to veteran suicide.  But I know that every single hour I devote to listening to the stories of our heroes has the potential to remind one of them that another human being values what he or she sacrificed for me and my family and my fellow citizens and also understands—at a basic, human level—the resulting psychological wounds.

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Dr. Keith Ablow is a counselor, life coach and co-founder of #HELP22, which he started with Commander Kirk Lippold, USN (Ret) and public relations professional Christian Josi. Dr. Ablow was, for 10 years, a Fox News Channel national on-air Contributor and member of the Fox News Medical A Team.  Any veteran who wishes to schedule an appointment for the next #HELP22 day, on December 22, should email [email protected].

 

 

 

 

 

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A NEW BOOK ON HOW TO—LITERALLY—STAND UP TO DEPRESSION (Achieve Good Posture and Trigger Better Mood)

So much has been written about the mind-body connection—and rightfully so.  It now seems obvious that our psychological state affects the function not only of the central nervous system, but the heart and every organ in the body.  Diseases from cancer to multiple sclerosis to hypertension, and everything in between, demonstrate undeniable links to depression, emotional trauma and unresolved, underlying anger.

We are lucky to have recognized the ways that yoga can stave off dementia and the ways that meditation can increase longevity.

Too little, however, has been written about the mirror image of the mind-body connection—the body-mind connection.  Yet we do know that correcting bodily abnormalities can correct emotional ones.  Certainly, exercise can improve mood, but that isn’t half the story.  We are learning incredible ways in which one’s psychological equilibrium can be optimized by optimizing one’s physical equilibrium.

Simply put, developing physical balance is linked to developing emotional balance. This is not theory, anymore; it is fact.  One example:  Botox, which prevents the brow from furrowing when we worry, also seems to short-circuit worry itself. When we relax the muscles that contract too powerfully when we are over-wrought, the mind seems to relax, too.

Another example:  Probiotics that alter bacterial colonization of the gut can insulate the mind from profound highs and lows of mood.

These examples are just the beginning.  Our bodily state influences our mental state in myriad ways.

Now, physical therapist Kathi Fairbend, MS, RPT is adding a crucial contribution.  Her new book,  Stand Up to Depression makes the simple, elegant and powerful point that correcting one’s posture can literally pave the way to elevating one’s mood.

As Fairbend makes plain, if you teach yourself to stand up like a person who isn’t depressed, you will be in a better position (quite literally) to become a person who isn’t depressed.

Think about it:  If using Botox to block the contractions of a few muscles in one’s forehead can treat depression, imagine what can happen when (with the help of Ms. Fairbend’s book) you learn to stand up to depression, stop slouching, walk confidently and plant your feet firmly on the ground.  Dozens of your muscles will resonate with your intention to stand up straight in life, shoulder your troubles and refuse the negative feedback that comes from inadvertently bending an ankle or buckling a knee, with every step you take.

Depression is insidious.  It hobbles its victims mentally, but also physically.  Reverse the physical decline, and it helps to reverse the mental decline.

I was lucky enough to consult to Ms. Fairbend as she wrote her groundbreaking book through my company Keith Ablow Creative. I have had a front row seat to the birth of a new specialty of physical therapy—physical therapy for the mind.   And I can envision a time when, with Ms. Fairbend’s help, thousands of physical therapists will treat hundreds of thousands of patients who come to them not only for help with joints and muscles and bones, but for help with depression and anxiety.

For now, that help can come directly from Ms. Fairbend’s book.  Stand Up to Depression stands alone as the way that people can tap into the brilliance of (as I see it) America’s leading physical therapist, a woman whose entire life’s work makes her uniquely qualified to take her readers on a bold new path of healing.

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Founder, The Ablow Center and Keith Ablow Creative

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ONE QUESTION THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE

There are lots of people out there who need a bit of encouragement.  And, sometimes, just one thought can turn the tide in favor of fighting a little harder or having a bit more hope.  So I’m going to let you in on one question I share with clients of mine who seem ready to throw in the towel and give up on themselves.

HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED THAT NO ONE WALKS OUT OF A MOVIE JUST BECAUSE THE LEAD CHARACTER IS IN TROUBLE?

Think about that. When a character played by Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts or Will Smith is up against it, when everything seems to be spiraling out of control in that person’s life, do you see anyone mutter, “Well, looks like he’s screwed, let’s go,” then get up and head for the exit? No.  That would be ridiculous, right?  Everyone stays in his or her seat, thinking, “I wonder what’s going to happen.” Or, “How’s she going to overcome this trouble?”  Or people look at their watches, expectantly wondering how everything is going to turn in favor of the lead character before the film ends.

One of the only times we are vulnerable to walking out on an unfolding narrative, losing faith that everything can still turn out for the best, is when the story is our own—when we are the lead characters. That’s when we are at risk to stand up and walk right out of the theatre.

I’ve had those feelings.  I’m human.  Recently, I had to deal with multiple bizarre lawsuits (which were all resolved, thank God) and then go to court and listen to a woman claim I was stalking her (a claim the judge, thank God, threw right out of court).  Watching all that unfold was like watching a double feature of horror films.

But I’m here to tell you that it makes no more sense to walk out on our own possibilities for victory and redemption than it does to walk out on those of a lead character in a film.  As long as we are living and breathing, as long as there is time left on the clock counting down our days on this planet, we have every reason to believe that we can still triumph over adversity.  The necessary ingredient is belief—faith.  Because faith insulates us from despair and fuels the fight inside us.  With faith, all is possible.

Are you feeling like walking out on your potential? On your dreams?  On your family?  On your sobriety?  God forbid, on your life?  I am telling you this, with unwavering certainty:  If you can at least resolve to stay in your seat and take an interest in the evolving narrative of your own existence, leaving the door open to every possibility, then you will be restored.

Now, let me tell you a secret (and if you already knew it, all the better): You can actually create your own storyline through the miracle of intention.  You can resolve that events turn in your favor, just like a screenwriter would script the triumph of a lead character in a film. And your resolve will make it so.

Keith Ablow, MD

Dr. Keith Ablow is the Founder of The Ablow Center.

 

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Moses: Personal Empowerment Personified

In the Book of Exodus, Moses encounters a burning bush that was engulfed in flames and, yet, not consumed by them.  It is here that God anoints Moses to go to the Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of slavery, to the Promised Land.

You may not have applied the story to your own life, but it is the very essence of personal empowerment.  Here’s why I think it is worth internalizing:  Moses is quick to tell God why he isn’t the right person for the job.  After all, he’s slow of speech and has personal flaws. But God reassures Moses that he is doubting the immeasurable force that gave him a voice, to begin with, and which now calls him to greatness.  When Moses asks by what name he should call God when he visits the Pharaoh, God tells him (roughly translated) that His name is “I am who I am.”

The point is that Moses has a great journey before him and a great calling.  Both have been put in his heart by God.  It matters not that he isn’t glib.  It matters not that he is imperfect.  It matters that he shows faithenough to believe in his heart that he can achieve a great and worthy mission.

 

Imperfections Are Not Stop Signs

You aren’t perfect, either.  You have likely lived through turbulent chapters of your own life story. You may have fallen short and erred, more than once in life.  But the key is still finding the faith to stay on the road to your destiny—the work you were meant to do in this world, from all time.  Said another way, the key to personal empowerment is faith.

W.H. Murray, the famed Scottish mountaineer and writer who served as deputy to Eric Shipton on the Everest Reconnaissance Expedition of 1951, put it this way:

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:  that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves, too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way.  I have learned a deep respect for Goethe’s couplets:  “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it.  Begin it now.”

 

Your Personal Empowerment Serves You and the Rest of the World

In The Seven Wonders(which I co-authored with Glenn Beck), we wrote about the notion of a polestar, which is spoken of in Hinduism, Taoism, Chinese popular religion, Siberian shamanism and other spiritual traditions.  This star, in direct line with the earth’s axis of rotation, is thought of as the anchor of the entire solar system.  And in ancient Vedic wisdom, the polestar is literally Dhruva—a prince who, at age seven, sought out God, despite being told he was too young for such a quest.  He is undaunted, ultimately meets God and is rewarded with his kingdom’s throne.

Glenn and I wrote, “In this sense, the entire universe, according to Vedism, can revolve around one person’s inner resolve to find truth and pursue his or her destiny.”

One of my favorite books is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  In that book he writes, [If you avoid your calling] “you shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.”

Sure, that sounds like pretty heady stuff.  But it is true whether you teach students with passion, defend legal clients with excellence, write in a way that moves people, heal others through your work in a health profession or inspire children as their mother or father, grandmother or grandfather.

 

Personal Empowerment and The Ablow Center

The blend of spiritual counseling, life coaching and mentoring I offer to clients is designed to find and harness inner resolve—to deliver personal empowerment to clients, no matter the ways in which they may feel limited, no matter the hurdles they may have encountered, no matter how many times they may have tripped and fallen.  All of those challenges are actually part of a person’s singular life story, which is part of a greater plan to hone that person for the important journey ahead.

In a very real way we are all Moses.  We may doubt ourselves.  We may doubt our callings.  But the self is miraculous and our callings are gifts from a higher power.  We need only to believe.

 

Keith Ablow

 

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WHY TALKING TO YOURSELF ISN’T CRAZY

Somehow, the idea of talking to yourself got a bad reputation as a sign of mental instability.  Think of the television stereotype of the afflicted fellow mumbling to himself at the bus stop. But the truth is that talking to yourself can be a very powerful way to fight anxiety and depression and set the stage for extraordinary personal empowerment.

 

Who’s Listening, Anyhow? 

The reason that talking to yourself can be so powerful is that none of us is just the person we see in the mirror today—with the social skills we have honed, the financial resources we have at hand and a maturity level consistent with being an adult.  In nearly every one of us resides a less well-adjusted self which is still struggling with the disappointments, fears and pain of childhood.  And that self can feel very isolated and alone, because we tend to want to bury it or build thick walls around it.  Let’s call that part of you “the struggling self.”

 

The Struggling Self Often Has No Voice, But It Never Stays Quiet Forever

The struggling self is usually banished from consciousness because all of us want to feel strong.  So we hide the part of us that really feels the full weight of being bullied or unloved—or worse.  We hide it from others and we hide it from ourselves.  And then we push it further and further away using all manner of shields—accumulating power or wealth or being seductive or overeating or drinking too much alcohol or using too much marijuana.

Deprived of being heard, relegated to an echo chamber deep inside us, the struggling self communicates its plight through a lexicon of feelings like anxiety, depression and irritability.

 

We May Refuse to Listen to the Struggling Self, But It Will Listen to Us

When we experience unwieldy feelings of anxiety, or disturbing feelings of depression, or destabilizing anger, one way to overcome them is to identify the most vulnerable time period we’ve lived through—perhaps when we lost someone close to us in childhood, or perhaps when we were powerless to stop someone from hurting us—and literally talk out loud to that younger, more vulnerable self.

What words might you use?  Here’s an example:  Think about a woman in her 50s whose youngest child is leaving for college.  She’s feeling something more intense than empty-nest syndrome, though.  She feels panicked.  And she’s able to identify her father leaving her mother, when she was just 11-years-old, as the source of some of her distress.  She might talk out loud to that younger part of herself and say something like, “Listen, I know I haven’t been willing to think about what you went through when Dad left the house.  You were eleven.  I get it. It had to make you feel completely panicked.  And, then, Dad seemed to stay away forever.  Well, I promise to take the time to go through those feelings with you, to really explore them and listen to them.  And I want to try to comfort you and make you know I care about you.  What might help you out?  What do you need?  Time to think.  Time to walk. Time to read?”

Believe or not, the part of the woman that hasn’t healed since age 11 can hear that kindness and be reassured by it.  And that can be the beginning of reduced anxiety and increased mood.

 

Figure Out How Your Struggling Self Got Created

Each of us who struggles with low mood or anxiety or, for that matter, obsessiveness or problems paying attention, should spend the time to try to discern how the part of ourselves causing this trouble got created and left behind.  Unearthing that storyline is necessary to make the upcoming, healing chapters possible.

 

Need to Be Introduced?

Sometimes it helps to have someone skilled at helping to uncover the struggling self, to define how he or she got created and left behind, and to then make real, healing contact with it.  That’s where a counselor or therapist comes in.  And getting one to make a proper introduction of you to your struggling self will be one of the best investments you ever make.

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Founder, The Ablow Center

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