Why do Some Kids Always Get Bullied?

Four reasons that some kids always get bullied:

  1. According to some studies, children with autism spectrum disorders are bullied around five times as often as their “neurotypical” peers. People with autism disorders may not recognize social cues, which makes them seem awkward or incompetent to others. Often, children seize on such things as the basis for bullying.
  2. Children with lower social and communications skills are often targeted for the same reason, regardless of the group they are placed in. Whether their challenge comes from modeling a low-skilled parent, from a sensory disability such as poor eyesight, or from using a certain information processing style – is irrelevant: If their communications patterns, abilities, or styles are different from their peers they are likely to suffer exclusion or other bullying.
  3. Children may take-on the identity or social role of “victim”. Once they accept that role, they will tend to behave “in character”, even in new surroundings, and become likely to always be bullied. This adoption of social role may be due to previous bullying experiences, usually compounded by adult mismanagement of those situations.
  4. Children all have the same needs – including the need for social status. Bullying experiences can lead a child to identifying into a “victim class” as part of their natural search for a strategy to fulfill that need. Adult mismanagement of bullying can help establish a victim-class-status – leading to that strategy being adopted in a symbiosis with one or more bullies. Each party achieves some boost of social status through their ongoing shared drama, and the target will always be bullied.

Many people will take issue with the latter two of these things, accusing people who observe these patterns as engaging in “blaming the victim”. Such accusations are common around issues from bullying, to battered women, to rape. The reasons for this are two-fold:

  1. The visceral reaction around a desire to protect a harmed woman or child is rather intense. And, intense emotions cloud analytical observation, critical thinking, and understanding.
  2. A person acting as “defender of the weak” lays claim to an elevated social status based on that role. Defending the weak from blame is conveniently less risky than defending someone from any actual attack – and less taxing that studying and understanding complicated subject matter.

bullied all the timeThe “protector” scavenges a social profit at the further expense of the target – by labeling them “a victim” and manufacturing a protective relationship with them.

They treat the person as not only helpless and incompetent, but  hopelessly and permanently so.

In reality the “protector” is preying on the target’s fear, as well as the emotions of a polarized audience open to their name-calling scheme. This system profits the self-styled “protector” to the detriment of reality, reason, and actual recovery of the target, who the vocal crusader will stagnate in the role of stooge for as long as they can get away with it.

This behavior is usually not consciously schemed, but that doesn’t make the construct any less pathetic or harmful. One of the first rules for coping with problems – especially social or security-related ones is to face the facts of functioning systems and to realize the power of “unintended” benefits.

Target Behavior Reality:

No scientist studying predatory behavior in intelligent animals will assert that prey behavior does not affect predator behavior. No sociologist or psychologist will assert that social systems are not affected by the behaviors of their members.

When I teach self-protection courses, I always assign an experiment called “pick the victim”:

My students go in pairs at night, to observe the parking area of a store, mall, gas station or other location. They are to imagine themselves as purse-snatchers, robbers, or car-jackers. They watch people coming and going – and select victims for hypothetical attack. They are to consider potential return against potential risk, just as any actual criminal would. And, they are to keep notes on why they would select someone – or avoid them.

They always return with a laundry list of behavioral, as well as physical traits that would exclude someone as a potential target. The point of the experiment is to develop the awareness that they are also always broadcasting information that someone else may be evaluating…

Don’t Victim-IZE Targets of Bullying:

always bulliedIn the real world, target behavior is demonstrated to affect predator behavior. Pretending otherwise is not only factually false, it fails to help protect the target. It also strips them of whatever power they may have to influence their own destiny.

This is what we communicate to someone by name-calling them “victim” – especially if we are in a position of trust. By name-calling them, we communicate our lack of confidence in them – our belief in their incompetence and powerlessness. This denies them all but two responses: groveling or suffering.

Consider the universal human need for social status. Notice that name-calling someone as “victim” leaves but one strategy for improving social status above whipping boy: membership to a special class of victim or martyr.

We see this played-out in various ways, including the virtual celebrity status afforded victims of bullying – especially those who take their own lives. They receive all the attention, affection, praise and status they didn’t achieve in life. Compare, if you dare, the celebrity status of bullied-to-suicide victims with the (similar) media notoriety afforded school shooters.

Silver Lining Syndrome:

Making the most of what one has is a hallmark of creativity and intelligence. So, when adults, as well as one’s peers, seem to be identifying a child as “victim” – it is not unnatural or unusual – and shouldn’t be unexpected – for them to find an up-side to the role they’ve been cast into.

Even my cats are smart enough to act-out to get attention. And, you’ve likely seen a youngster accept the role of “shy child” to gain much more attention than they would otherwise receive. So, type-casting in such roles as “troublemaker”, “shy child” or “victim” can have a silver lining in the form of attention and special status. From this, a symbiosis between bully and target can arise. This is not a condemnation; it is an observation of magnificence in unconscious intelligence, adaptation, and creativity…

Life-Long Risk:

bullied all the timeYou probably know someone whose narrative of every restaurant adventure involves an insolent, abusive, or incompetent wait staff – or bad or cold food – or food poisoning. Everywhere they go, they meet the meanest or most insensitive people. Such a person just can’t have a good restaurant experience. Yet, they’re willing to go out – especially if the occasion is special and the group large…

Who do you know that fits this description?

I’m not a psychic; I just know the story line of the “professional victim”. Many such people have various disabilities – some of which become a literal vocation, despite the person being rather capable in a variety of ways. How did those people move from bright-eyed youngsters into the mid-life professional victims I meet in my clinical practice?

My surveys indicate that at some point, they accepted the name-calling and labeling – accepted that they were “victims” of some kind. It became their identity and their self-image. And, that became the narrative of their life story from that point forward.

To me, the greatest cost of bullying is that the “bully”, or the “victim” – or both – wind up type-cast in these roles, living various versions of those events for most or all of their lives. I meet these people when they come to my clinic in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, stuck in the patterns of those labels – and suffering.

Next time, I’ll talk about what you can do.

In the meantime:

What are your stories about chronic bullying?

What do you think about co-opting someone else’s misfortune to seize attention as a “crusader”?

What other comments or observations would you like to share?

What else would you like to see me include in this series?

Please leave your comments, suggestions, and questions below. I’ll do my best to answer.


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How to Deal with CyberBullying

what to do about cyber bullyingHow Can I Deal with Cyberbullying?

Last time, I answered the question “What is Cyberbullying?” and talked about why it seems to be so hurtful to the targets. I also talked about how cyberbullying short-circuits the natural safety mechanisms that most of the time helps keep face-to-face bullying from becoming murderous or maiming.

To talk about what you can do about cyberbullying, I’m going to return to each of those points and address them with specific countermeasures. And, I’m also going to do a short section on technical countermeasures – or what you can do with controls in the technology itself.

The best way to deal with cyberbullying – or any bullying – is to prevent or reduce it by fostering self esteem and communication skills.

Let’s start with the motivations for bullying:

Social status is awarded by winning the match. Ascending status feels good; descending status feels bad; uncertain status means the game is still on because end-of-match emotions kick-in when the match ends.

One of the things we can do to reduce the motivation is to reduce the perception of the need to defend or advance status. I did a blog post on the Importance of Self Esteem in preventing bullying and one on Building Self Esteem. The suggestions in those posts will help reduce cyberbullying the same way they help reduce any other bullying.

But, once the game is on, the nature of digital communication doesn’t transmit much of the information needed to signal when the game is over.

stop cyberbullyingWe can help to address that by increasing face-to-face socialization – which increases empathy and the empathy response. Children need more un-scripted face-to-face time to just be kids together. Facilitate this as much as you can, and don’t try to control everything. What seems like “doing nothing” is really building bonds and empathy – the anti-violence.

Digital media fails to convey most of the emotion of a conversation – body language, voice tone, facial expressions – which is why even adults are far more aggressive and insulting on line than in person. It is important to deliberately exercise empathy in digital communications – to try to read our writing from the other person’s perspective. Give people the benefit of the doubt by asking yourself:

“What is the kindest possible way this could be meant?”

Assuming that meaning will not harm the reader – and it may save them huge embarrassment. Asking questions more than accusing people of having mean thoughts is also a useful habit to build. Most of the time, we imagine others’ intentions as more harsh than they are really intended. Realize that bias and escape conflict by assuming the best.

Teaching conversational skills – including logical argument and critical thinking – will help children hold their own in verbal matches – which online communication is. It will also help them to recognize the impotence of name-calling attacks in the context of verbal matches. As those kinds of attacks are understood to be weak, they will lose their effect – and therefore their usefulness.

Rote “sticks and stones” talk is not a substitute for logical and conversational skills. Advocate for formal teaching of these skills – and do what you can to teach them yourself. The second usefulness of teaching logical argument skills is that children will learn when and how to gracefully concede an argument – or to accept victory – in a clearly communicated fashion.

This is vital because clear victory marks a clear end to a match – allowing all parties to move forward. Children cannot learn these things unless they have a model for them – and also practice. Teach how to argue, how to know you’ve lost, how to concede gracefully, and how to win gracefully. This vital life skill, while it takes time to teach, will pay dividends forever.

Formal debating matches come with time-limits – just like MMA fights. When parents stay in the loop of their kids’ digital communications, they can use parental controls to impose breaks between rounds – and even to end conflicts by shutting out aggressors (more on this later). Learning can sometimes be rough, and it is important that parents not rush to shut down communications to “protect” their children. Don’t allow your emotional reactions to interfere with your child’s growth and skill-building.

Another vital life skill is Debriefing:

Do you ever have an argument with someone, and then later you are going over and over it trying to think what you should have said?

Debriefing is to bullying interactions what game debriefing is to a football team. It is a way to make useful sense of the experiences; to give them useful meanings; and to plan and even rehearse for better responses in the future.

Everyone does this in some way. Repeated nightmares and anxiety attacks are not useful ways. Training the habit of doing this in a useful way – and feeling normal about it – are better ways.

You can model this behavior for your children whenever a conversation with anyone goes in an interesting direction – good or bad. If the kids are with you, loop them in on your interaction.

  • What did you not notice that you could have?
  • What else could their comments have meant?
  • How else could you have taken things – or reacted?
  • What else could you have said?
  • How could you have left the situation more gracefully or positively?

This includes gracefully admitting when you’re wrong or mistaken, as well as graciously giving and receiving apologies for offenses. 

This is a useful habit for everyone, and your children won’t learn it unless you show them how to do it. How can you leave everyone you meet happier?

Remember that in digital media you’re missing the emotional part of the communication – facial expression, etc. Use debriefing as a matter of lifestyle – and include your children. It will build communication skills that will pay dividends for their entire lives – while helping them avoid bullying in the near term.

Technical Countermeasures

cyberbullying how to deal withIf you provide your child with access to an on-line account and/or smart phone, you’re going to want to become literate in the current social media trends and the available tools for managing security issues.

Teach your children good digital hygiene, including password management and how to build strong passwords. If you aren’t versed in this, do some googling. Use the “hacked account horror story of the week” as a teachable moment, and an excuse for a together learning activity.

In tragic stories of bullying, or children being lured by pedophiles, the parents were almost never deeply involved in managing, exploring, and learning about digital communications with their children.

There are two fundamental strategies to understand: Whitelisting and Blacklisting.

Think of a white list as an invitation list: Anyone on the list can get into the party. A whitelist is a list of people you will accept phone calls, text messages, or e-mails from.

Activating a white list is like having an invitation-only party: Anyone who is NOT on that list will NOT be able to get in. Messages from people not on the list will “bounce” – and not be seen.

Use a whitelist when you have a more serious or wide-spread problem, or want to be very restrictive of who can contact your child. The younger the child, the more inclined I would be to use whitelisting right out of the box. With a whitelist you can shut out everyone but family and specific trusted friends.

Think of a blacklist as the kind of blacklist a bar may have of unruly patrons who have been ejected – and have become unwelcome. People on a blacklist can’t get in the door.  The opposite of a white, the blacklist are numbers from which you will not accept calls, text messages, or e-mails.

If your child has no or few problems, and is becoming old enough to manage unknown callers, a blacklist will allow you to block the one or two numbers a bully may use to bother them directly. The weakness is that if they use any other number to dial or text, they’ll get in. If your child has increasing problems, consider changing to a whitelist.

Computers and Social Media:

Monitor your child’s use of the computer. Put it in a main room in the house so you can glance at the screen any time.

cyberbullyingUse the operating system parental controls – and use strong passwords for them. Enforce computer down-time to keep the on-line world from taking over their lives.

When they have social media accounts, you should have their passwords, and you should log-on at least daily to monitor their activities and communications. You should monitor their privacy settings and help them block people and content that aren’t appropriate. You will want to be literate in these settings and procedures. They aren’t difficult to learn…

Facebook has a portal specifically to help kids who experience bullying on that site. It contains information and advice that adults should look over also!

If you run into issues, consider using a keyboard logger or even hiring someone to help with managing their online activities.

If they get into troubles with Facebook or other social media, contact the security department of the company for help, and use the available tools.

If they get into serious issues – if someone is sending them pornography, breaking into accounts, or making credible threats of harm – those are serious crimes and should be treated as crimes and not as bullying.

Cell Phones:

TextBomb cyberbullyingEven if you have an “unlimited” data plan, make sure you have protections in place against “text bombs” – an automated flood of text messages (literally tens of thousands of them). If you don’t have an unlimited data plan, a text-bombing attack can run your bill into scary levels.

Exercise parental controls that limit installation of apps, and the sending and receiving of videos. I am particularly concerned about “snapchat” – an app that allows sending of graphic images which self-destruct in a few seconds. The self-destruct feature has made this a choice tool for both sexting and cyberbullying. I recommend you disallow installation of this or similar apps, even if your child isn’t involved in these things.

I want to express special thanks to Melissa in Sprint customer service for guiding me to some of the following material. I’m just using Sprint as an example here. Most cell carriers have responded very well to the needs of parents with a suite of easy-to-use tools. Sprint offers a web-based set of Mobile Controls.

With Sprint Mobile Controls, you can:

  • View an easy-to-read dashboard of your child’s phone usage.
  • Quickly and easily set phone use limits by time of day and day of week. Don’t want your son using his phone during school hours? No problem.
  • See who your child is talking or texting with – and when.
  • Establish an allowed list of phone numbers that can call or text your child.
  • See what apps your son or daughter is downloading to their phone.
  • Set alerts to stay informed of any potentially concerning behavior.

With My Sprint Account Controls, you can:

  • Block or allow all settings with one touch, or manage them individually
  • Block or allow texts, data usage and picture and video sharing
  • Block or allow apps and digital media downloads
  • Restrict Web access to sites inappropriate for children
  • Restrict or allow users to manage their own wireless settings
  • Stop unwanted SMS messages.

 The parent can do all this from their computer screen – without having the phone in-hand. These tools are not difficult to use, and the carriers have staff that will generally help you learn and use them.

Sprint also allows the phone-holder to block messages from your phone using short code 9999. So, your child should be taught such countermeasures to shut-out unwanted calls and texts.

For the parent who wants to keep track of the text conversations their teen is having (that should be you), it’s important to know text messaging isn’t backed-up at Sprint. It is a good idea for parents to install a text-message backup app to preserve their child’s text message conversations for review and for evidence if necessary.

These are some basics of how to deal with cyberbullying. Extreme cases require assistance, and I recommend you contact a professional for that. Depending on your location I may be able to make a recommendation.

What kinds of experiences have you had with cyberbullying?

What did you do to deal with it?

I would love to hear your stories, comments and questions. Please join the conversation and leave them below.

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5 Ways to Fail Your New Year’s Resolution

It’s the end of January. Have you failed your New Year’s resolutions yet?

Because quality failure requires proper planning, it’s important to know why the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions FAIL.

Most people think a “lack of willpower” is enough to guarantee failure – and that’s one excuse. But the bad news is that’s the wrong answer.

The worse news is that your significant other and friends are smarter than that – even if they don’t admit it to your face. The truth is the “lack of willpower” excuse is flaccid, pitiful, unoriginal – and totally obvious.

resolution failThat’s because most people aren’t broken or “lacking willpower”. So, a quality New Year’s Resolution failure needs a truly bad strategy – not just bad genes or lame excuses. And, that strategy has to have decent stealth technology built-in, or it’ll be too obvious, and your significant other will hold you in contempt for even saying it.

So, pay attention and I’ll lay out the FIVE strategic ways to craft a guaranteed New Year’s Resolution FAIL – with enough stealth that you will get away with it. Here are five examples that look just fine on the surface, but conceal absolutely deadly fail-making technology:

  1. “I will lose 20 pounds by the end of February.”
  2. “I will spend more time with my family.”
  3. “I will get Nancy to marry me.”
  4. “I will make a million dollars.”
  5. “I will weigh 125 pounds.”

Pretty typical resolutions. They all meet one of the main recommendations for goals of every kind: They are all stated in positive terms. That’s what makes them ideal stealth-failure resolutions!

Let’s Check Them Out:

1. “I will lose 20 pounds by the end of February.”

This goal is positive, and healthy, and that “end of February” deadline is the perfect kind of overly-specific booby-trap to trigger stress-eating – or just plain stressing – which causes the body to retain weight.

People who want to stay fat (or even gain weight) should try to do stress-eating. And, they need to avoid being active and getting outside. Going outside burns calories. It also exposes a person to sunshine – which helps their body synthesize serotonin. And, that totally ruins the seasonal affective depression that helps them binge on carbohydrates like pretzels, chips, and pasta.

Physical activity relieves stress – which interferes with stress eating and the hormone levels you want to maintain to insure you maintain or gain more fat.

January is the best time of year to make excuses for staying inside and inactive. It’s cold, it’s snowing, it’s miserable, you get a cold, it’s flu season, you have to brush off the windshield, it gets dark early. And, if any of those fail, you can always misplace your gloves.

The more non-perfect performance days that tick off through January, the more weight you have to lose PER DAY to avoid failure.

At some point, even your significant other will forgive you for just surrendering – taking the couch-lounging path that ultimately gives you 11 months and 4 days of peace until you have to do it again. (If you don’t count your significant other totally checking out the hot-bodied so-and-so at the lake.)

If you really want to fail your New Year’s Resolution, make sure you put your goal on a deadline.

2. “I will spend more time with my family.”

This goal is positive, and a good idea, and just non-specific enoughThere’s no method – and no metrics (tracking system). You can totally make easy excuses any time it comes up. No real action will happen, and by the time anyone notices – around the time you have that big fight in July or so – you’ll have “already failed” – and you can put it off again until next Christmas!

When you want to make a totally fail-destined resolution, making it seem positive, while structurally vague and without any way to track progress – is certain to be helpful. And, by that, I mean to insure failure.

3. “I will get Nancy to marry me.”

There’s that good positive-sounding facade – behind it hiding one of the best resolution fail tricks in the book: You aren’t really in control of it. You can make a big production, and spend money and take a trip and hire a sky-writer. You can do all that with utter security that most jewelers will take the ring back when she says “no”. And, the refund will probably let you pay off the proposal vacation you maxed-out your credit card for.

One of the best ways to insure a resolution fail – and to build-in an escape from accountability – or even create a pity-wringing victim status – is to make sure someone else is in control of the main choice(s) or actions that produce the outcome.

Consistently focus on any part you don’t fully control– especially trivial ones. Do this especially if that part isn’t actually necessary. Find ways to say that others are in control of various trivial, but essential prerequisites to you taking meaningful action.

4. “I will make a million dollars.”

By now, you recognize the “positivity paint” on this baby, and you may already be noticing that a ridiculously-gigantic and very specific goal is just the thing to insure a quality resolution fail. The “lose 20 pounds by February” resolution used time pressure to help guarantee failure. This one does the same thing, just using gigantic size instead of a short time-frame.

No matter the degree of progress, make sure you never measure progress, and always focus on how huge the rest of the resolution is.

And, the result is the same: You get out of the effort much earlier by surrendering to how much harder it seems to make a $999,000 in only seven months.

When you want to fail a resolution, don’t make it big, or even challenging; make it ridiculously huge. Nobody will blame you for surrendering. And, in the meantime, everyone will say how “ambitious” you are.

5. “I will weigh XXX pounds.”

Positive. Controllable. Right-sized to your starting weight. How are you going to fail that one?

This is the stealthiest of the fails: The outcome-obsessed fail. This one requires some greed, but most people can supply that. You have to stay focused on the outcome – like Gollum with the ring.

You have to crave and obsess and struggle with it all the time. And, it’s best if you dramatize that with your family and friends – being so brave and “strong” whenever anyone is watching. Max-out that willpower in the most dramatic possible ways.

That allows you the flexibility to rationalize and justify and excuse and deny the “cheating” and binging you’ll do when nobody is around.

It’s OK: You totally deserve all those treats and rewards for the incredible shirt-popping will-power you’re profiling.

Nobody will blame you when you boomerang around Valentine’s day, gaining back nine of the five pounds you lost before then. They’ll believe the “big boned” thing – at least when you’re in the room.

Keep in mind that nobody likes a successful New Year’s Resolution winner-bully – and everyone loves the story of a dramatic failure.

Remember, your friends will feel bad if you outdo them. Remember that victory laps are short-lived and elitist, while martyrdom and pining for unrequited success offers an endless source of conversation and attention. If you were to succeed, you would have to invent an entirely new line of conversation and basis for connecting to your friends.

BONUS:  21 things NOT to do in order to FAIL:

  1. Resolutions-01DO NOT allow your focus to stray from your deadline or the acquisition of the goal as if it were a product you could purchase from Walmart.
  2. DO NOT allow yourself to ever consider your resolution as an organic process or an activity you could commit to just doing regularly as a reward.
  3. DO NOT allow yourself to feel good about the activity or process or adventure of moving toward the person you want to be.
  4. DO NOT allow your resolution to become part of a lifestyle that involves new friends and new fun activities and new locations.
  5. DO NOT associate with people who are successful at happily achieveing and maintaining the same kind of goal you have.
  6. DO NOT adopt the beliefs and attitudes and habits of successful people. Instead, make sure you hang out with lots of people who “share your struggle” (but never succeed). Believe and complain as they do.
  7. DO NOT make a specific and scheduled plan for taking manageable, bite-sized actions on a consistent basis.
  8. DO NOT schedule and prioritize your consistent bite-sized actions on your calendar.
  9. DO NOT write the personal deeply-held values that relate to your goal – and your bite-sized actions next to them on the calendar where you’ve prioritized those actions within your schedule.
  10. DO NOT feel good about keeping those values-affirming appointments.
  11. DO NOT congratulate yourself or memorialize in writing the progress you create.
  12. DO NOT imagine and design goals unless the final decision lies with someone else.
  13. DO NOT focus on the parts of your progress that you most control.
  14. DO NOT take consistent meaningful action any time you can find something that “has to be done first” – and especially if you can find a way that someone else has to do it.
  15. NO NOT ever make a resolution of a reasonably achievable size.
  16. DO NOT measure progress toward a goal. Instead, always measure how large the incomplete portion is.
  17. DO NOT allow your focus (or that of your friends) to wander from the goal – or how dramatic your struggle is.
  18. DO NOT lose sight of how much attention you can get by failing.
  19. DO NOT make yourself lonely by winning your goal – thereby losing your connection with your friends who are also struggling with the same Resolution.
  20. DO NOT feel worthy or deserving – or like investing in yourself, your happiness, or your health. Instead, make sure to live down to the lowest opinion of yourself or the lowest social standing you can remember having.
  21. NEVER BELIEVE that Resolutions are about the outcomes of consistent practices or lifestyles. Instead, always imagine that resolutions – like a new flat-screen from Walmart – are the results of massive temporary efforts. And, like that flat-screen, their value is in lording it over your friends – for as long as passively doing that can last.

2014Please share your own New Year’s Resolution Fails below along with how you’re going to give yourself a do-over reboot in February. If you have comments or questions, please also share those and I’ll do my best to answer!

Posted in Cultivating Character, Decision-Making, Get Rid of Anxiety, High Performance, How to Be Happier, How to Stop Worrying, Procrastination, Self Esteem, Stopping a Bad Habit | Comments Off on 5 Ways to Fail Your New Year’s Resolution

Optimism and Emotional Hygiene™

The last post was a demonstration of “reality-based optimism” for powering-up your New Year (and any time). As promised, this post is going to contain the blueprint – the step-by-step recipe – for building your own powerful reality-based optimism on a daily basis.

And, that’s just the first part!

Generating reality-based optimism is as simple and easy as copying a bus schedule.

BusTohellIf you want to get to a certain destination, you wouldn’t bother to write down the schedules and opportunities to get on buses going somewhere else – would you?

If you’re just determined to list buses you think are going the wrong way, start by noticing some things that suck – and list (in writing) the exceptions to them.

You could also, think of bad things you could be afraid of, but that haven’t happened to you.

List them in writing. Then, measure how many people they aren’t happening to, and list that in writing.

When you’re ready to write down the schedules and stops for buses going your way, start with the buses you’ve already had a ride on:

List in writing some good things that have happened to you.

paradiseWhen you’re ready to look for the next bus you want to catch, think of the great things that could happen to you and list those in writing.

Finally, think of the things you can influence with action – the buses you may have to hustle a bit to catch. List those in writing – and then get your feet moving!

The best way to get where you want to go is to jump on the bus that’s going that way. The best way to catch those buses is to have a handy list of them – and to get to the bus stop.

This is part of what we call Emotional Hygiene™.

  1. It’s a practice you should do every day – like brushing your teeth or bathing.
  2. It cleans-off emotional dirt that we all accumulate from living in society.

Emotions involve the entire organism, with every emotion shifting hormone levels, blood pressure, heart rate, etc. Those emotional states function in cycles – like every other biological process. And, doing something every day brings the biology along. For instance, exercising daily creates a more consistently energetic biology.

Humans are hard-wired for empathy. We feel others’ emotions when we are around them – or even watch them on television. Who doesn’t laugh at funny movies – or cry at sad ones? That’s genuine emotion in our bodies – actual change of physiology – from watching a chunk of glass and electrons.

Mass media makes profit through marketing – getting people to buy things.

People who are safe, warm, and comfortable don’t buy things – people who are scared, lacking and uncomfortable do.

The most important part of any marketing program is to get you scared, feeling lack, or otherwise uncomfortable – to get you to do the opposite of the blueprint outlined above.

Even if you don’t own a television set or are very diligent about turning commercials off – it is likely that most people you associate with in person don’t do that. They are going into feelings of fear, want, and discomfort in a huge way.

handsJust as shaking hands or touching work surfaces invisibly contaminates your body with dirt, dead skin cells, and bacteria, being in the space of others invisibly gets their fear, lack, and discomfort into your physiology – through your natural unconscious empathy.

In the way washing your hands cleans-away those dead skin cells, bacteria, and general dirt, Emotional Hygiene™ washes out the fear, lack, and emotional discomfort.

Two parts of Emotional Hygiene™ are:

Gratitude is what produces “reality-based optimism”: a list of the things that have already gone your way – like being born into the most peaceful time in world-history – or into a place with technological and economic opportunities – or being healthy – or having access to lots of information and free communication opportunities.

You get the idea…

Daily written list of your personal good fortune is a great way to build reality-based optimism, and to “set the dials” of your biology to an emotional state that supports noticing the busses that are going your way that day.

Excitement is what produces energetic activity – also known as the giddy-up factor that so many successful and personable people have. Excitement is also contagious emotion – like anything else you can “catch” from television or friends. And, just like the list of good fortune, a list of things that will be exciting to learn, experience, or cause – will jump-start that emotion for your day. It doesn’t take a very long list of “what I’m excited to learn, experience, or do” in your morning to stoke the motivational fires and get your body into motion.

cleanhandsGood physical hygiene is proven to improve the quality and length of life. Good Emotional Hygiene™ is a simplest, easy key to enhanceing success and enjoyment. The gratitude part alone can improve your health, get some sleep, reduce anxiety, improve your love life – and even how long you live!

Practice Emotional Hygiene™ by keeping a journal – writing down a handful of reality-based optimistic observations (things you’re grateful for).

Follow that with a short list of what you’d like to learn more about, what you’d like to experience (see, hear, feel, smell, taste), and what you’d like to do (cause). A daily practice of this will increase your and personal energy – and will boost your personal relationships and even the quality of your conversations. (Do the experiment for 30 days and see)

To jumpstart your Emotional Hygiene program, share your gratitudes, excitements, comments, or questions below. I’ll do my best to answer every one!

Posted in Coping with Sadness, Get Rid of Anxiety, High Performance, How to Be Happier, How to Get Some Sleep, How to Stop Worrying, Procrastination | Comments Off on Optimism and Emotional Hygiene™

Realistically Happy New Year 2014

There are no “negative people”, just “negative thoughts”.

My second “Happy New Year” post for 2014 is just that – a short set of remarks about how it is actually a HAPPY NEW YEAR.

So, I want to start the New Year talking about death – and in spite of media propaganda – the growing shortage of death we’re all having to live with.

Let’s start with life expectancy, world-wide:

shortage of death

Since 1950, we’ve been increasingly polluting this planet with life expectancy. It’s been going up all over. And, it’s getting worse. Next up is mortality for the Middle-aged in America (me and my high school peeps). The handy graph was from 1950 to 2010. Just take a look at this thing:

running out of death

I don’t know how you respond to seeing this, but it fills me with an almost reckless desire to go out and kick some ass of some kind.

And, there’s more news for the Middle-aged – this time world-wide.


This graph takes a bit of interpretation, but take a minute and digest this:

  • Group I = Communicable Diseases (pneumonia, flu, etc)
  • Group II = NON-communicable Diseases (cancer, heart disease, etc)
  • Group III = Accidents and violence

People under 4 years old mostly die of contagious stuff. If you can make it to your 30’s contagious and non-contagious stuff are about equal.

But, if you can hang in until you’re 45, chances are you’ve learned to avoid accidents, and the vast majority of issues are Group II – stuff you control – like being fit and not smoking or drinking too much.

So, if you’re 45 or older, you’re almost forced to feel great – and just tolerate as much of that control as possible. There’s a good chance your New Year’s resolutions – if you actually keep them (how to do that in another post) could just force you to live longer!

And, all around us, people are getting that understanding – and at earlier ages. If you think the young people are carrying this place to hell in a hand-basket, check this out:


Smoking rates even in teenagers have been coming down since 1998, and in 2011 they were acting smarter than their elders! If you aren’t careful, you could run the risk of becoming optimistic, here…

But, what about violence?

We all know – because the press keeps telling us how violent America is – and how the young people are the scariest – especially for us old farts. There must be some violence to be afraid about?


Contrary to “the news”, if youth crime were a stock you wouldn’t want to be holding any of it. This graph from the CDC says the violent crime arrest rate for youngsters has been sliding since 1995 – almost since I was in high school.

I think about how safe I felt in the world during my late teens and twenties – and realize young people are committing violent crimes at only HALF the rate they were when I was that age.

What’s the world coming to?

You may ask someone like Steven Pinker:

And, you’d learn that, boringly, the world is getting safer.

Many people have had financial difficulties during the past … well, since I graduated high school the purchasing power of minimum wage has declined, dragging part of our economy with it.


While the cost of many things are going up and up, some of the best things in life are becoming more accessible and cheaper.

People like Pater Gabriel are giving away some of their newest, and possibly best stuff!

And, even as the cost of a college degree is rising, much of the education itself is becoming FREE – and accessible from your own couch.

Places like TED are providing “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”. Going to the TED conference and sitting in the auditorium is a several-thousand-dollar proposition. But, you can get the videos, which you can pause while you fetch another notebook to write in, free on your couch.

There are also places like EDX are offering courses from MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley – for FREE.

Which leads us to connectivity – or, how many people are gaining access to this kind of FREE self-developing resource?


Check out this graph of Internet connectivity from 1996 to 2012 – from only around 10% of the population in developed countries connected to something around 74% back in 2012. And, where do you think it is today?

And, that leads us to the intersection of education, entertainment, connectivity, and business because anyone with an iPhone or cheap flip camera – and some imagination – can produce movies; have their own television show; and make money doing it.

Check out Thug Notes: High-quality, Cliff’s Notes style summaries and interpretations of classic literature delivered in “thug” style.

Also, check out my friend Dashama Konagh’s Thirty Day Yoga Challenge.

These people are combining a passion for something they love – literature or physical health – and sharing the positive outcomes of their personal adventure-paths with others. The video camera and YouTube channels aren’t the end of this, but the beginning. There’s loads of hard work and learning involved.

But, the basic opportunity is waiting. Just like death and disease and crime and violence – Even as the press keeps saying we’re all doomed – and even as people have experienced some tough times – other ways of making a life (notice I didn’t say “getting a job”) are becoming more available than ever before.

My friend Chris Dunn just wrote:

“In 2013 we saw the strongest bull market in 7 years. Hopefully everyone made improvements, built some wealth, and had a lot of fun! Here’s to an incredible 2014!”

This guy makes his living day-trading – and teaching other people to do that. He, often does that from exotic locations in Thailand or other fascinating places. And, from where he’s sitting the economic tide is rising – not falling.

Which brings me to the second-to-last optimistic authority on my little tour:

Gary Vaynerchuk says:

“…This is the most practical time in the history of time to be an entrepreneur. If you even have one percent thought around doing it, do it – and not do it at the expense of anything other than your leisure … at the expense of watching Breaking Bad … can’t you give that up for a year to change your entire life?

There are no “negative people”,
just “negative thoughts”.

The most powerful thing a human can do is focus their thoughts. Those who do this transform themselves into winners – and infect the entire space around them with an aggravatingly optimistic and positive attitude.

If only everyone could feel that way. If only more people knew how…

This blog post was a demonstration.

The next one will reveal the blueprint and detailed how-to for those who want to own the process of creating powerful, transformational optimism.

If you have a story, comment, or question about the power of reality-based optimistic perspective, please share it below. I’ll do my best to answer.

Posted in Dealing with Fear, Decision-Making, Get Rid of Anxiety, High Performance, How to Be Happier, How to Stop Worrying, Stopping a Bad Habit | 1 Comment

Four Questions for Your New Year

January is “busy season” for self-development coaches and “improving myself” types. There’s blogging, and suggesting resolutions, and shtick about “killing it in the New Year”. It’s time to get the pump-up going – some loud music and strobe lights like a Tony Robbins seminar.

Try to create a bunch of emotional momentum and conjure commitment and inflate that will-power – as if we actually believe it’s going to last THIS year.

Because, with the list of “to-dos” and “tasks” and “goals” and “dead-lines” most people are going to put themselves under – and all the stress that’s likely to cause, it’s a wonder anyone gets started with anything.

And, we all know that will-power pump-up is going to go flaccid as the party balloons in a week or two, don’t we?

Personally, I like to sleep in late and get a relaxed, though well-focused and intent start. So, maybe you won’t mind if I skip all the New Years’ pressure-hype and do something much simpler – and hopefully more useful. We can come back to the limp will-power in a later post.

For my New Years’ blog, I just want to suggest asking FOUR questions – easy ones. They aren’t questions most people would expect. And, asking them in the right way may help you wake up to the new year with a different view.

Q1: What was your biggest lesson of the last year?

big lessonFor most people, that question will remind them of their biggest mistake of the year – something that may seem negative at first. But, if you think of the lesson as something you’ve already paid the tuition for – in time, money, heart-break, etc., you may see it differently.

Ask yourself: “If you’ve paid an expensive tuition, aren’t you entitled to some valuable learning?”

Think about what the “biggest lesson” cost you: Consider how valuable the learning ought to be based on that. If you are the subject of the lesson, and the content of that lesson is personal insight that is positive and empowering for your future – what will your notes about it look like?

Whatever mistakes you make, the cost is your tuition, and that is the amount of value you should get from them.

Think about it until you can honestly say you would not reverse your mistake if that meant giving up your learning. Sometimes, this takes more thought and notes than other times. But It’s almost always worth the effort.

In Motivational Literacy, we call this “error conversion”: You get to stop feeling bad about the mistake – and instead feel really good about learning something valuable.

It can take a little practice to get good at this. Luckily, there’s a “biggest lesson” available on a daily basis for most of us – if we bother to convert it. So, you can do this now for your previous year – and practice it on a weekly or even daily basis during the new one!

My Personal Biggest Lesson:

Last year, we learned to paraglide, and I made the mistake of 
letting that type A personality creep in to my "just for fun" 
activity. I pushed too hard, grasped too tightly - and in the 
end I learned more slowly and had less fun than I might have if I 
had remembered how to relax and play like a kid.

Of course, that was why I decided - at 50 - to finally do something 
just for fun (something I never do did) - to learn just that 
lesson. Again.

Tuition paid, and lesson learned. I've been having more fun the 
whole rest of the year because of it. And, even my "work" 
productivity has been going up and up as I've allowed myself to be 
more playful. I would call an overall increase in both productivity 
and happiness to be a great return on my investment!

Q2: What are you proudest of from last year?

what are you proud of?That’s a simple question.

Take the time to put the answer in writing – whether a private journal or a social media post doesn’t matter. Just acknowledge the achievement and let yourself feel good about it.

My Personal Proudest:

I'm going to stick with the Paragliding Project for this one as 
well. I took time away from "work", and spent more time with my 
wife having an adventure. The adventure included navigating 
frustrations of learning and schedules and weather and equipment. 
It also included facing fear and danger. We both had some phobic 
responses to free flight. I had a close call in some trees - and 
frightened into a trembling sweat in some turbulent air. We even 
had some physical pain from exertion and minor injuries.

After that, we dealt with the FAA to fly in restricted air space - 
and scouted and cleaned-up some launching and landing areas in our 
town. Along the way, we made new friends and have the beginnings 
of a local paragliding club.

Whatever your achievement was, feel especially good about it, and about the ways it had a positive influence on others. Think about it a bit – and see how much you feel like taking that thing to the next level – or maybe tackling something similar. Imagine what that could be. Invest some thought and notes, here, because the next question circles back to it…

Q3: In the New Year, where will you most make valuable use of those things?

anticipationThink about the valuable learning from your biggest lesson – and the things you learned around your biggest achievement of the year, too. Think about the feeling of wanting to do more of the thing you’re most proud of – or to take it farther.

Imagine how those things may come together in the New Year for you – to empower you to … something. Use these questions to explore that:

  • What do you think that something might be?
  • Where do you think it might happen?
  • Who do you think will be with you?
  • What will the first step of that feel like?

My Personal Anticipation:

Sticking with my paragliding adventure, the New Year is already 
very exciting. The lesson of playfulness along with the 
achievements of connections and technical skills are going to 
let us establish some great new flying locations for local 
pilots. And, along with those new friends, we're going to turn 
our town into a paragliding destination.

Just let your imagination fill in the blanks of your anticipation – and consider how interesting it could be if you were to write those things down about your own adventure – and then the same time next year see how they fit into the “lesson” and “achievement” questions.

There’s no pressure, here – just curiosity – and you may find the next (last) question increases that.

Q4: In the New Year, what are you most interested to learn more about?

curiosityThis is completely different from what you should feel most pressured to do!!

What are you most interested incurious about – to learn more, or to build a skill for?

Use the following questions to explore that:

  • How does that connect to your other answers?
  • Your biggest lesson of last year?
  • The thing you’re most proud of from last year?
  • What you may do to build on those things?
  • Even if your biggest fascination to learning and skill is completely different – what will it be about?
  • What will the first part of learning that be like?

My Personal Interests to Learn:

I'm going to learn more about ridge soaring, thermaling, and 
cross-country flying - as well as a great deal more about 
establishing landing zones. I've got some great friends to work 
this stuff with, and loads of open air with hawks also waiting 
for us to fly with them.

OK. There are more than four questions on this page. But, the extras are just to help you explore the four main ones.

While this may seem like the lazy-man’s slow-start to a New Year, remember: A great wave seems small as it forms out at sea. But, when it meets the beach it will be huge. As they say, you’ll get out what you put in.

Done right, answering of these four simple questions can form the ripple that becomes your personal tsunami of momentum for this year’s achievements – and fulfillment.

Please join the conversation by sharing your answers in the space below. Do the same with any comments or questions about adventures, Motivational Literacy – or how to change your life!

Posted in Decision-Making, High Performance, How to Be Happier, How to Stop Worrying, Self Esteem | 3 Comments

What is CyberBullying?

cyber bullying The definition of cyber-bullying I’ll be using is based on the definition of non-cyber bullying I’ve been using throughout this series: “protecting and/or elevating social status through various persistent and often hurtful means”. I also use the descriptive term “social sorting” to refer to this notion.

Cyber-bullying is bullying in the realms and using the tools of digital communication and social media. It includes things like social exclusion, name-calling, calculated embarrassment, text-bombing, harassing calls, and minor intimidation – up to the point of things that fall under existing criminal codes.

For instance, we would not describe a parking-lot attack with a baseball bat as “bullying”. So, we would not describe destructive digital attacks such as breaking into someone’s account or sending pornography to a minor as “bullying”. Those things are criminal acts, which should be addressed as such.

The four most common questions I get about cyber-bullying are:

  1. “Why do they do it?”
  2. “Why won’t they stop?”
  3. “Why is it so crushing?”
  4. “What can I do?”

Answering the first three questions requires understanding the motivational mechanics involved. I’ll use some Motivational Literacy strategies to break it down. And, I’ll use analogy to make the emotions easier to deal with by looking at cyber-bullying as a game:

In a tennis match, participants experience emotional reward or loss (elevated or deflated feelings) according to how the match ends. They also experience elevated or deflated feelings whenever they score a point – or whenever a point is scored against them.

Like any other game, participants in cyber-bullying are playing for those two kinds of emotional rewards: the match-end reward and the individual play reward. Like any other game, both time and score are kept in their own ways. Unless we understand the rules and rewards, we cannot play or referee the game effectively:

  1. Social status is awarded by winning the match. Ascending status feels good; descending status feels bad; uncertain status means the game is still on because end-of-match emotions kick-in when the match ends.
  2. Until the game is over, participants will feel an urgent need to focus on game activities, and their immediate emotional reactions to them. When they or their partners score points they feel good; when they or their partners lose points they feel bad. And, attention is riveted when the proverbial ball is in play.
  3. In normal face-to-face social sorting (bullying), the match is over when the target concedes.

Most people have heard the expression “fight or flight”. In reality, fleeing or fighting for one’s life are extremes on a spectrum of social interaction. The vast majority of aggression in social animals is resolved at less-than-life-threatening extremes – with actions called “posture” and “submit”. So, in the majority of social sorting activities the aggressor postures, threatens, perhaps shoves – and at some point, the target communicates their submission – alleviating mayhem and murder.

cyberbullying how to stopThis evolved-in safety system works most of the time in face-to-face situations. When one person communicates concession through words, running away, or displaying extreme emotional distress, the match is over. The aggressor has achieved their goal, so further aggression is understood as unnecessary, unwarranted, and unfair. An aggressor who persists beyond that point risks social blow-back. This safety system extends beyond humans and even beyond other primates – but is not perfect.

The evolved-in safety system relies on four critical factors:

  1. The aggressor(s) perceive the target as a human being (worthy of mercy). So, the target’s distress or submission signals the aggressor(s) to stop and enjoy the emotional reward of victory rather than continuing to attack.
  2. The target has the opportunity or ability to flee the field.
  3. The aggressor(s) understand that the match is over upon the target’s submission, flight, or absence (and receives no emotional reward for continued offensive action).
  4. There is an intermission between matches, where participants cool-off; emotionally re-set; and review their actions. Critically, they also get to experience different emotional reactions to entirely different activities.

As bad as bullying can be, in most face-to-face social sorting, these systems protect against life-threatening or maiming injury the vast majority of the time. Although we can certainly do better – and should – we must appreciate the efficiency of nature. Following Nature’s lead can also inform us about what to do in the land of IS instead of fantasizing about life in the land of SHOULD.

How do these factors relate to cyber-bullying – and why is it often worse than face-to-face bullying?

The answer is in the limits of digital media, and how it relates to what I’ve mentioned above:

  1. It facilitates dehumanization in a supercharged way.
  2. It short-circuits the evolutionary safety system.
  3. It locks the reward of aggression and the pain of losing into loops.

It facilitates dehumanization in a supercharged way:

On-line name-calling puts labels in written form, which influences perception in three ways more powerful than spoken insults:

  1. Most people respond to writing as more “real” than spoken words. Reading about something lends more credibility than merely hearing it. This is the power of the written word – according to English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton “The pen is mightier than the sword”.
  2. The reach of a spoken slur is limited by the volume of the bully’s voice and the size of the audience at the moment. Remember the coming-of-age movies of the 1980’s, when the worst possible thing was an insult being broadcast over the school PA system? Consider that insults posted on-line literally reach “everyone in the (wired) world”.
  3. what is cyberbullyingSpoken insults fade at the speed of sound. They may be repeated, but every instance fades as fast, whereas an insult written on-line it is as clear on the 100th day as it was on the 1st. Imagine one of those 1980’s movies where the bully didn’t use the PA system, but painted an insulting mural on the school walls instead. And, nobody could erase it. The target had to walk past it every day.

These features of digital communication compound the dehumanizing effects of labeling, reducing the perception of targets as human. This can reduce the effectiveness of the evolved-in safety system that uses an empathy trigger to shut off the aggression. And that’s the first item in the next category…

It short-circuits the evolutionary safety system:

  • Perceive the target as a human being. Digital labeling is even far more powerfully dehumanizing than verbal name-calling – for reasons outlined above.
  • how to stop cyberbullyingTarget’s distress or submission signals the aggressor(s) to stop. Most of the credible communication of submission and distress that our evolutionary safety system relies on is non-verbal – body language and facial expression. That information is unavailable through digital communication. The “off switch” is literally missing from the aggression system. And, the emotional reward for “scoring points” continues to urge the aggressor on.
  • Target has the opportunity or ability to flee the field. In the digital environment, the target may leave a chat room, or block a bully from messaging them. But, these responses are not understood as “leaving the field” because the target is still “digitally present” in some fashion. This “off switch” is also missing from the aggression system.

It locks reward-of-aggression and pain-of-losing into loops:

  • Intermission between matches never happens because the participants aren’t getting the “end of match” signals their brains have evolved to respond to. There is no cool-off, emotional re-set, opportunity to. Most critically, they are not mentally free to experience different emotional reactions to entirely different activities because the primitive brain thinks they’re still in a fight. The thumbs stay busy throughout the ride home, supper-time, homework, television, and even after supposed lights-out.
  • Just as the aggressor won’t perceive the target as having “left the field”, the target themselves can’t feel the relief they’re supposed to get from retiring. The “end of game” switch is missing from the target’s system as well, so they feel compelled to keep looking – to find a pile-up of “points” accumulating against them. There is no escape, no mercy, and no emotional relief. The target is stuck in a kind of social sorting purgatory…

This short explanation should provide some insight on those first three questions – and why the issue seems so challenging to deal with:

“Why do they do it?” – Mostly, it’s social sorting, and that’s evolutionary.
“Why won’t they stop?” – Digital media doesn’t support legacy safety systems.
“Why is it so crushing?” – Digital media doesn’t support legacy safety systems.

Cyberbullying is a kind of problem that adults find less troublesome than in-person bullying because adults are better at coping with social media issues (although I see a significant percentage of adults who are also very challenged with this).

Hopefully, the understanding of underlying mechanics will provide adults three resources:

  1. Greater empathy with the pervasiveness and the intensity with which children experience cyber-bullying.
  2. Greater empathy and understanding for the aggressors, who can seem to be evil, but who are actually caught in a looping pattern – nearly as unable to quit as the target is to escape.
  3. A more creative attitude toward coping strategies – including those I’m going to present in detail next time, when I answer that fourth question:

Next time: CyberBullying – What you can do!

What experiences have you had with cyberbullying issues?
Please share your ideas, comments, and questions below.

Posted in Bully Blog | Comments Off on What is CyberBullying?

Five Steps to Fulfillment, Duck Dynasty Style

Five Steps to Fulfillment are hiding in plain sight – inside our Fascination with the Fringes.

duck dynasty philWe keep hearing about the Kardashians – and about Phil Roberts, of “Duck Dynasty”.

In both cases, the people involved activate tribal identity and financial aspirations, as well as envy and contempt. That seems to be a good formula, from a media monetization perspective.

Whenever things get quiet, someone on one of the shows will make a controversial statement – that pushes those tribal affiliation or contempt buttons – preferably both. Each time, the media monetizes our society’s fascination with the fringes.

keep up with the kardashiansFacebook lights up with photos and memes that either celebrate and support – or ridicule and condemn these “colorful” families. Everyone is cheering – or jeering – the “real life”, times, opinions, beliefs, and biases of people they’ve never met – and are unlikely ever to meet – as the fans do the heavy-lifting of publicity for the networks.

Then, like fans of the Mets or Dolphins, they’ll run out and buy baseball hats, or shirts, or purses, or shoes – whatever product placement or merchandising gimmick is being floated that week as part of the “celebrity lottery” these people seem to have won.

In the meantime, most people are working jobs they don’t love, with people they don’t particularly like, producing products or services they don’t particularly believe in – as the show seasons (and years) drift by.

These shows offer relieving distraction from the painful drudge of ordinary life for us “regular people”. We get vicarious adventures and drama – fantasies we can get into. Adventures at the fringes of society are far enough away to let us suspend disbelief, but close enough for us to relate to.

Lost on both show fans haters, these modern parables hide the keys to fulfillment behind the alternately gauche and tacky trappings of “reality” television and the stars that make them.

Let’s pull back the curtain and find a little Motivational Literacy gold:

“Reality” shows aren’t “real”. They don’t show every burp, upset stomach, and stubbed toe. They’re structured to emphasize the bits of life that make for a good adventure:


  • the challenge,
  • the drama (frustration, and anger),
  • the actions taken,
  • the achievement (climax), and
  • the sharing of that achievement with someone.

People in the shows are just people, too. And, the levels of fulfillment they achieve aren’t beyond any of us.

The big cars, and fancy houses and fat bank accounts aren’t fulfillment: They are not measures of success, but BYPRODUCTS of personal adventures that involve achievements.

If we look deeper than the money and colorful characters, and realize that “people are people”, these shows can offer a blueprint for a fulfilling life – instead of a mind-numbing escape from ones we imagine are boring.

The hint is in the scripting or editing I outlined above: the parts of a Well Formed Adventure™ in those five simple steps:

The challenge: There’s always some sort of task or test or problem or goal to be addressed. At some point “things get real”, and people have to stretch and grow and maybe pull together to get the job done.

The drama (frustration, and anger): We usually know “things got real” because we’ve reached frustration and/or anger. Someone is embarrassed for dropping the ball. Someone’s feelings get hurt. Drama happens.

The actions taken: Someone picks up the ball and starts running with it. If there’s personal conflict, that plays-out by fixing the hurt feelings (apologies) – or growing past them (getting over it). Either way, there’s growth and connection.

The achievement (climax): There’s a deadline (television shows are short), and the problem gets solved – with some sort of useful outcome. A project is finished, a loss is prevented – something.

The sharing of achievement: In the end, there’s a sharing of relief – or achievement – and some recognition of what was done. There may be some acknowledgement of lessons learned or growth realized. And, maybe some anticipation of the next adventure.

What most people don’t realize is that these points are actually scripted in every “reality” show – or at least on a check-list for production and editing. The reason for that is THEY ARE THE PARTS OF AN ADVENTURE, and if you watch someone doing them it feels (a little) like you’ve done them yourself.

orange county choppersThese “reality shows” – and others like OC Choppers, Deadliest Catch, etc – offer  modern parables if we will see them in that light. Instead of mind-numbing distractions from our own lives, they could be BLUEPRINTS to the lives of adventure we all deserve.

You don’t have to be out on the “fringe” to be in an adventure. The only reason adventure STORIES are set that way is to make it easier to disconnect from your own life.

But, you are in your own reality show every day. It even has a custom soundtrack: What music do you listen to? If you don’t have some, open a Pandora tab – or get an MP3 player and make one!

deadliest catchFor many, the five parts of a Well Formed Adventure™ outlined above are in our lives now. We are doing them all the time – we just don’t notice that frustration and anger and crisis and social blow-ups are that part of OUR adventures.

And, when we apologize or “get over” hurt feelings – when we stretch and learn and change – that personal transformation is the same as the people we watch. Your adventures are just as interesting and distracting as any others – to someone who isn’t you.

So, the only thing missing for you is you noticing that YOU are the star of your reality.

We are “those people” in real adventures. And, we are “on the fringe” – compared to anyone who isn’t in the same line of work as you.

Think about that: From someone’s perspective, you and your life are totally “fringe” – totally unusual, outrageous, and fascinating. If only you were to notice…

For the people who aren’t finding those five major parts of a Well Formed Adventure™ in their lives, there’s a HIDDEN DIFFERENCE.

There’s something not the same for them and the people they’re watching in shows – instead of living real adventures for themselves. And, it’s not money or fame.

THE ONE HIDDEN DIFFERENCE is that people in reality shows on the fringe aren’t avoiding their challenges, fears, frustrations, and social crises the way most of us do. By NOT avoiding those things, they enter adventures head-on; get into the process of adventure; and wind up with achievement and sharing the outcome with others.

The difference between being a spectator to adventure and actually living it is in just two things:

STOP AVOIDING challenge, fears, frustrations, and social situations. GO INTO those things. They will be scary; they will be difficult; and they will require you to change, learn, adapt, and “get over it” – whatever “it” is.

RECOGNIZE and enjoy those experiences for the REAL LIFE ADVENTURE you are living. Notice “this is the frustration part” – and how you deal with that. Notice “this is the fixing hurt feelings part” – and how you can do that. Notice “this is the achievement part” – and feel good about that. And, always make sure you notice and enjoy the “sharing the outcome” part with people who helped or cheered.

What challenge, fear, frustration or social situation have you been avoiding? And, what’s the first step you could take to JUST DOING IT?

Which of those those parts of real life adventure have you been taking for granted? And, how quickly are you going to notice and appreciate it next time?

Which victory have  you recently given short shrift? And, who can you go celebrate that with? Who will you celebrate the next one with?

If you’re not sure about this, experiment with it for a week, and see what happens…

Please leave your questions and comments below. I’ll do my best to answer.

Posted in Cultivating Character, How to Be Happier, Self Esteem | Comments Off on Five Steps to Fulfillment, Duck Dynasty Style

Stop Name Calling

stop name callingWhy do we still care about name-calling?

To understand the pain caused by name-calling, and the larger implications of it, let’s look at the mechanics just a bit. For instance, what kinds of names are people called?

Name-calling can be sorted into three categories:

  1. Referring to someone as an animal or other non-human thing.
  2. Slurs that insinuate deviance, criminality, etc.
  3. Grouping of some kind – ethnic, religious, gender, or other group – often using an epithet.

These are all parts or manifestations of one of the eight major factors scientifically linked to evil behavior: Dehumanization.

  1. Referring to someone as an animal or other non-human thing is depersonalizing. This portrays the target as not human, and therefore not meriting humane treatment.
  2. Insinuating deviance, criminality, etc de-legitimizes the target’s claim to being treated with fairness and humanity.
  3. Grouping through ethnic, religious or other slur de-individualizes the target, stripping them of name, personality, and the personal traits we use to experience empathy.

The process of dehumanizing others is facilitated by status, power, and social connection. So, the idea of the popular kids as bullies isn’t just a stereotype: Having high status makes people more likely to dehumanize others. This places higher-status children and cliques at greater risk of bullying others through dehumanizing processes.

Dehumanizing a target also relieves an aggressor of distress they would otherwise feel for mistreating someone. Dehumanizing often involves a process called “moral exclusion” – assigning a reduced set of moral values and rules (social protections) to a group or person. In this way, dehumanization promotes behaviors like exclusion, violence, and support for violence.

Once outside the scope of normal morality and justice, the target finds themselves utterly without consideration. This explains the depth of cruelty we sometimes witness in bullying, lynching, and genocide.

Understanding the mental processes behind name-calling or labeling, lets us also understand why children experience such intense emotional distress from name-calling:

  1. Human beings are social animals that require social connection and support for mental and even physical well being. A child subjected to name-calling and the lowered or even excluded social status that may go with it, may not only have hurt feelings, but may suffer health consequences also.
  2. For a human being “in the wild” social exclusion is literally a death sentence – particularly for a small and immature individual. On a primitive level, denial of one’s membership to the support group would be life threatening. And, primitive parts of us know this.
  3. Semantic dehumanization (verbally stripping someone of human status) lowers natural inhibitions to violence. So, the emotional distress caused by a frenzy of name-calling may be more than “hurt feelings” – it may be a warning, as a potential attacker works themselves into the state for violence. This process is often seen in violent adult offenders, who will commonly preface physical assault, rape or murder with a stream of derogatory language and epithets.

These are the mechanics behind a child’s intense reaction to what seems like mere name-calling – the discomfort and consequences from perspective of the target of labeling.

But, there is a cost on the other side of the equation as well…

Don’t bully the bullies:

bully the bulliesAlmost as important as noticing and stopping name-calling, it is important that we not engage that same process – that we don’t “bully-label the bully”. Stop name calling. Otherwise, we risk turning our “anti-bully” campaign into a license for name-calling to exclude others from the social fold. The net outcome isn’t any more useful because the social order remains fractured and tensions remain in place along similar lines.

More self-destructively, labeling people bullies (or “terrorists”) blinds us by over-simplifying complicated social interactions and processes. Not only are those labels lacking useful meaning, they are a mental short-cut to avoid thinking (or learning) about people, cultures, and issues. In many cases, such labeling helps us avoid noticing our own responsibility to social order. In most social issues, labeling impedes understanding. So, it is as important for our own mental integrity as for our moral integrity that we stop name calling – including our name calling the name callers.

Finally, more dehumanizing processes and more social division are not likely to help build strong, cohesive social structures – where we find peaceful kind interactions.

What Can I Do?

As with everything else, start by checking your own behaviors and language.

What you are actually modeling for your children?

Do you use labels to morally exclude others – be they individuals or groups?

How sure are you about your answers to those questions?

Stop name calling – even “bullies”.

How healthy is your “stand up” when others use labeling and name-calling – particularly when your children are present?

You may be able to improve what you model…

Understanding is protective: Explain to children that labeling makes people seem unworthy of our ideals for how to treat human beings. Explain that if a person’s right to fair treatment can be erased by name-calling, that’s not good for any of us.

Playing an imagination game to activate empathy will make your child less likely to do it. And, for children subjected to name-calling, understanding the mechanics behind the emotions usually reduces their intensity.

Teach children that a sense of humor is like anti-label magic. Having a sense of humor, and using it to casually dismiss the earliest prods of name-calling may deny the would-be bully their social goal – and nip the situation in the bud.

Another strategy for children to stop name calling is to directly inquire of the name-caller about their goals and needs – what they want to achieve through the name-calling. This strategy is risky, and should be done without an audience for the bullying party to play to.

Help your child to consistently view behavior as separate from person: Simply, human beings all have the same needs (and value as people); it is our strategies for trying to meet those needs that are variable in how well they work, and whether they fit into society.

This is the opposite of mentally-lazy labeling, and helps us to stay focused in the present. This thinking makes it easier to remain calm and less emotional – which is important to deny reward to the bullies.

If name-calling seems to become persistent or pervasive – or if it escalates severely – it may be the harbinger of greater problems, and therefore a need for adult intervention.

Next time: What is Cyber-bullying?

If you have comments or questions, I would love to hear them. Please leave them below and I’ll answer.

Posted in Bully Blog | Comments Off on Stop Name Calling

Stand Up Against Bullies

Why don’t kids stand up against bullies (for others) more often?

why won't children stand up to bulliesAt every anti-bullying and “safe schools” meeting I’ve attended, and in every anti-bullying pamphlet I’ve read, and in many posters I’ve seen the adults consistently say something:

“We must teach children to stand up against bullies for the sake of others.”

And, this demonstrates just how out-of-touch the adults really are.

A school-yard underling challenges the authority of a bully, and as they get beaten for their trouble, others stand around – or record it for upload to YouTube. Often, laughter is heard on the video. And, the YouTube comments are mocking – of the victim.

Adults are often horrified by this, but I’m a bit confused at how they could be surprised, given the way adults behave and have organized our society to create exactly this behavior.