keynote speaker

Can you change the past?

Personal note

Last Saturday I gathered, along with 150 other alumnae, at an event staged by my alma mater, Stanford University. Stanford Connects, brought as a road show to Minneapolis, featured micro lectures and seminars by noted professors; President Hennessy informed and entertained us with his answers to questions about the University and its future.

What a thrill to be back in that heady atmosphere of crisp conversations and intellectual stimulation. How sobering it was to remember what it was like being the oldest undergraduate on campus in 1967, a 30-year old divorcee in a sea of 17 and 18 year olds who represented the best and brightest minds in the U.S. Now that was stress! And how lovely it was now to be in present time, successful and confident, and greeted warmly by faculty and staff, and to feel that I really mattered to this great institution.

The event was so stimulating that I did what introverts do: I left early and went home to savor all the wonderful things that had happened, and to refill my energy tanks. Memories of the loneliness and tension I had suffered blurred and softened in retrospect.

Can you change the past?

Can you go back and change the past, or are you stuck with what you remember?

That’s the key: what you remember. The fact is, our brains are stuffed with memories, only some of which we retrieve, convincing ourselves we have a true and complete picture of the past when in fact we have a partial, often negative, picture of our history.

Why the emphasis on the negative? Our nervous systems record unpleasant events, including the cues that lead up to them, rapidly. Then they cling as if they were barnacles on a hull. Pleasant things, on the other hand, are stored more slowly and fade more quickly. Why? Because of our need to learn and respond quickly to threatening signals, signals that might threaten our very life.

Even when the cues simply signaled the start of the third grade spelling test, our bodies react as if that were a life-threatening event.

Once we have this negative mind set, we reach out and store more events that fit the template we have set up. We notice those things that confirm our observation that life is hard. One researcher, Paul Meehl, noting our tendency to become more depressed as we aged, called this phenomenon “aversive drift.”

Can you change this? Yes – by taking the time to focus deliberately on pleasant events, especially before bedtime every night. During the day, sniff the roses, hear the birds, respond to the smiles you encounter.

You can actually build up a foundation of good memories that will attract more and more that are similar – and even start recovering pleasant memories from long ago that you haven’t accessed in a long, long time.

The warm encounters I had at my recent alumnae meeting triggered wonderful memories: approaching the campus as the sun rose, gilding the buildings with soft rosy gold,  thinking “this is my campus”; exploring the cubby holes and stacks of the old library, finding treasures in bound journals that had nothing to do with what I was supposed  to be studying; strolling down  a rural lane in summer, surrounded by silence, bees humming in the foliage, only to discover that one of those ivy-covered buildings was a high energy physics lab – all of these memories had lain buried beneath remembrance of the stress of living – and being evaluated – in a highly competitive atmosphere.  But that wasn’t all that was happening; lovely things were all around me, and apparently were being recorded in my brain.

It’s not about re-creating the past; instead, you highlight the pleasurable aspects of it, eventually  overriding the more unpleasant events.

And if you think of the past as what happened a second ago, you can start consciously to work on building up a warm, confident past now, and watch how it influences those old storage files that reach far back into the past.

The Confident Introvert

“What are they afraid of?” my department manager used to ask after meetings in which a number of department members sat, silent and resentful, while he was unaware that his habit of springing surprise agenda items and asking for an immediate decision was very upsetting to these talented, educated introverts. Understanding, appreciating and utilizing the skills of introversion are foreign ideas to some – even to introverts. Now you can read about it in
The Confident Introvert.
Order now at

What the heck is virtual learning?

Personal note

As my life and business continue to expand, I meet more and more people who don’t seem to be taking advantage of all the good things available to them. Why? Because they don’t know quite what to expect, and are wary of trying something new and different.I was motivated to write this week’s newsletter because I have found too many people who are reluctant to try some of the new approaches to learning, approaches that could help them transform their lives if they’d just take that first step. Share this one with anyone you know who could use some urging to step into the 21st century and find enlightenment!!
Listen to my interview on the subject of the Confident Introvert with Mary O’Keefe, Founder/President of Well Within, and radio show host at  Click here:
Next week I’m launching my FREE three-teleseminar series on some of the challenges faced by introverts.The topic for Week #1 is “Are you Baffled by Bluffers and Blusterers?” and it’s about dealing with those highly confident folks who:
  • Find every opportunity to display their expertise – without trying to  discover what you already know;
  • Act as if only they have access to The Truth;
  • Behave as if they assume you are inferior, and you know it, too;
  • Tell you who YOU are; and
  • Behave with such supreme self-assurance that you are left feeling a little  bit smaller each time.
In this first session, we’ll look at the following:
  • Is this really confidence you’re seeing – or something else?
  • What is confidence, and how do you get it?
  • Ways to protect yourself from the B & B’s without being or feeling defensive
  • Strategies to help you emerge from these encounters with even stronger self-esteem.

And if you’re thinking, “The time isn’t convenient for me,” or “I have too much to do that week,” or any other excuse you might use, read the article below before you make the decision not to register for this seminar that can start turning your life around.
Did I mention that it’s free?

What the heck is virtual learning? learn1

I meet people all the time who don’t really understand virtual learning, and are therefore wary of signing up for anything that is presented in this way.

What a shame; there is so much expertise out there that you can access once you become familiar with this increasingly popular method of supplying information. Don’t let that wariness keep you from easily participating in events that can transform your life.

It’s a dream-come-true for busy people who yearn for information to make their lives better and easier, but who don’t have time to seek out and attend the live events.

Virtual learning is something you can access in your home, on the beach, or anywhere you want. You can access it when it is convenient for you, too.

Virtual learning can come in different forms:

Teleseminar: When you sign up, the presenter sends you an e-mail with the date, time, telephone number, and PIN number you will use to access the live seminar.
Using your own telephone, you dial in to that number at the given time, and then enter your PIN number when directed.
There may or may not be long distance charges, depending on where you are and where the number is located.

Some presenters use a service that gives you a choice of local numbers to call rather than using that long distance number.
During the call, the presenter will mute the phones of all the callers, so that you don’t have to listen to background noises of doors slamming, dogs barking, and children calling out. At the end of the call, the presenter generally un-mutes callers and asks if there are any questions.
If you miss the live call, most presenters send you a link where you can access a recording of the call.

Webinar: The presenter sends you an e-mail with a link to a website where you will experience the training. You may see a Power Point presentation, with the presenter speaking as the slides change, or you may see the actual presenter and even a guest presenter.
You may also be given a telephone number to call, if you want to listen to the audio by telephone.

During the webinar, you may be able to “raise your hand” by selecting an option on an on-screen dashboard that allows the presenter to see that you have a question.
As with a teleseminar, if you miss the live event, most presenters will send you a link where you can access a recording of the event.
In both cases, presenters often provide handouts which you can download and print out.

What are the advantages of this type of learning to you, as a learner?

Distance is no problem. The presenter could be in Istanbul, and you in Southern California, and you would still have access. Think what it would cost if you had to fly to the presenter’s city and book a hotel room. The whole world is now available to you!

Weather, such as the winter many of us have been experiencing, isn’t a factor; you can be at home, log burning in the fireplace, cup of tea at your side, attending the class no matter what is happening outside: storms, floods, traffic jams, high snow banks, etc.

Activity: If you’ve already been sitting for hours at your job, and are stiff and tired, you can stand up and walk around with your cordless phone during the session. You can even do a few simple exercises, if you like! Try that in a classroom or auditorium.

Time: You’re not available at the scheduled time? No problem, just listen to the recording on your time schedule.

Although there may be an advantage to being present for the live call, so as to ask questions, many presenters allow you to e-mail your questions in advance. The answers would then be on the recorded version.

And often presenters make an offer, such as a complimentary coaching call, or a free CD with even more of their wisdom on it. You may have to be present for the live event, as these offers often have a time limit.

How do you find these courses?

Go online and search for the topic that interests you. You will find presentations in the areas of health and wellness, self-esteem, small business development, and for all I know, tightrope walking and dog walking.

There is a lot of high value content available by this method. Top experts are giving away free information on every topic under the sun every day, and reasonably-priced courses are always available. Why not tap into this stream of expertise and enrich your life?

The Confident Introvert

“What are they afraid of?” my department manager used to ask after meetings in which a number of department members sat, silent and resentful, while he was unaware that his habit of springing surprise agenda items and asking for an immediate decision was very upsetting to these talented, educated introverts. Understanding, appreciating and utilizing the skills of introversion are foreign ideas to some – even to introverts. Now you can read about it in
The Confident Introvert.
Order now at

Are you afraid of success … or is it something else?

Personal note

I am most delighted in my home office on a day like today, when the entire landscape seems to be covered with whipped cream. Yes, we had snow starting last night and continuing today, leaving me in splendid solitude with a computer and a head buzzing with dreams. So here goes…. April will be “Coming Out” month for introverts. Stay tuned for details!
Such a program I have for you – fun and empowering. I can hardly wait to share this with you.

In the meantime, Minnesota Wellness Educators is presenting an all-day seminar called “Stress: The Silent Killer,” and I am one of the speakers with “The Angina Monologue.”  I well know the effect of stress, and how it almost killed me with a heart attack. In fact, 85% of disease is now known to be stress-related.

Speakers will include, besides myself, Michael Monroe Kiefer, Ph.D. and founder of the PowerMind Institute; Lori Bestler, CH, Strategic mind coach; Katie Fahnel, DC, of Body Harmony Chiropractic; and Lynn Wilson, RN, founder of MN Wellness Educators. Cutting edge information on the newest health practices can be yours for an incredibly low fee!  In fact, I’m told you can now bring a friend FREE if you register.  So, Register now at

Are you afraid of success … or is it something else?


Has someone suggested to you that you fear success? Or have you thought it about yourself? If so, what is it you are really afraid of?

I had to think about this some years ago, when I was starting out as a speaker. An enthusiastic and supportive friend of mine would say, frequently, “Maybe soon we’ll see you on Oprah’s show,” and I would shudder in horror and immediately cut back on any activities that might make me more visible.

I was being sabotaged by two fears, both involving the possibility that I wo

uld appear foolish and fail miserably. The first was that I simply had no knowledge of how to prepare for an interview, and the second was that I would be thrown questions that were skeptical or even hostile about my expertise, and I would be frozen, unable to answer.

I thought some people were just born superbly capable to handle these situations, while others (myself), were not. Some people are actually born to be “cool” in circumstances that would fluster the rest of us, but I failed to realize that being a good interviewee, and fielding difficult questions, are simply learnable skills. Just because some people are born to be superb athletes doesn’t mean that others can’t learn and enjoy swimming or playing tennis.

Being told you “fear success” doesn’t really help solve the problem, does it? I always felt that I was really being told that I lacked will power, or backbone: something essential but difficult to visualize, much less grasp.

I know now that somewhere out there are templates for every situation you might encounter but don’t know how to handle – yet.  Here are a few resources:

  • Need to express yourself better in public? Try reading “Communicate That!” by CBS radio host Roshini Rajkumar.
  • Flustered by sudden questions or comments that you don’t know how to handle? Communications specialist Sharon Ellison has some great techniques for you in her book, “Non-Defensive Communication.”
  • And if social situations you have never encountered give you sweaty palms, you can find exactly what to do when you consult Letitia Baldridge, author and expert on contemporary manners, and former social secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy. In her “New Complete Guide to Executive Manners,” she covers everything from dressing, gift-giving and table manners to travel and differences in international culture.
You don’t ever have to feel alone and in a panic. Others have walked the same path and marked it out clearly for you to follow. They weren’t any more special than you are, but they realized they had to learn the ways in which to make their dreams come true.

So select your guide and set out on your trip to success!

The Confident Introvert

“What are they afraid of?” my department manager used to ask after meetings in which a number of department members sat, silent and resentful, while he was unaware that his habit of springing surprise agenda items and asking for an immediate decision was very upsetting to these talented, educated introverts. Understanding, appreciating and utilizing the skills of introversion are foreign ideas to some – even to introverts. Now you can read about it in
The Confident Introvert.
Order now at


What does confidence have to do with your heart?

Personal note

In keeping with the fact that February is National Heart Month, I am presenting another article that deals with cardiac disease.

But it does more than that; it deals with daily life and how well we live it. To be slightly (but chronically) anxious is not only dangerous to your health but also leads to a limited life in terms of pleasures and fulfillment.

So long as the heart is beating, we are alive, even if we are brain dead. But when the heart stops, all is lost. It seems to me that to be fully alive we should be dedicated to taking care of our hearts.

What does confidence have to do with your heart?7968714_s


Confident people know when to be afraid; they then take action – to run away from the saber-toothed tiger, leave the burning building, or whatever. Unconfident, or socially anxious, people, on the other hand, are wracked by numerous anxieties over what are called “paper tigers”:  fears about how they are perceived. If they speak or act, are others silently (or not so silently) going to criticize them? Do they appear foolish, awkward, unstylish…? The list goes on and on.

In fact, unconfident people fit the description of the Type A, or heart-attack prone personality, proposed by cardiologists Friedman and Rosenman: someone who is engaged in a relatively chronic struggle to obtain an unlimited number of poorly defined “things” in the shortest possible time, and if necessary, against opposition. In other words, they’re constantly fighting paper tigers.

The absurdity of this, of course, is that the events which they fear most – meeting new people, going to new events, speaking up in public – don’t call for the tremendous spurt of strength or speed that the stress response gives them. So they simply endure these events, stewing in their own chemical juices that have been released in response to what they perceive to be a threat.

Researchers in the United Kingdom evaluated ten studies of men and women enrolled in the Health Survey for England from 1994 to 2004. The data (published in the British Medical Journal), which involved more than 68,000 adults aged 35 or older, not only showed an association between psychological distress and mortality, but also showed that even mild anxiety or depression raised the overall risk of death from any cause by 29%.  The risk of death specifically from cardiac disease increased by 29%. So even the mild but chronically anxious were putting themselves at risk for serious consequences.

Therefore, it’s worthwhile to notice how often you feel attacked by paper tigers.

Whenever you feel even a little uncomfortable (and there’s no real tiger on the horizon), use the StressBuster Formula – Pause, Breathe, Choose.

Start by noticing the paper tigers, and then pausing to breathe. When you pay attention to your breathing, you are becoming aware of your body.

As you reflect, notice when the tension rises – in response to what events, key words, memories?

Where does it affect your body? That may be a clue to a chronic discomfort or illness that you are developing, because stressing your body regularly is a great way to break down physical systems.

Ask yourself, “Is there really a tiger out there?”  

People who suffer frequently from social anxiety often have more reactive nervous systems than do cooler, more confident people. If that is true of you, does that mean you’re stuck forever being intimidated by life situations and other people?   No, but it does mean that you need to take time every day to calm your mind and your body.

You can unlearn these maladaptive responses, become calmer, and learn to respond powerfully and well to real tigers.

In fact, your life may depend on it.

The Confident Introvert Networker

Personal Note

Some years ago I had a close friend whose personality can only be described as extravagant.  When she entered a room, she did it with great style, capturing everyone’s attention and keeping that attention for most of the event.  She favored large, showy hats, and often compared herself to the iconic Auntie Mame.  An introvert, I admired her style and wondered how she did it so easily.

She had an annoying habit of being late.  Only later did I find out that, during the hour or so that she was late, she was actually crouched on the floor of her closet, curled up in the fetal position, waiting for her medication to take effect so that she could go out and face the world.

Sad though that realization was, it helped me recognize that insecurity wasn’t my lonely challenge; even confident-appearing extroverts may have deeply-hidden  insecurities.

In a sense, those of us who have recognized our own insecurity are in a stronger position, because we can admit, at least to ourselves, that we have a challenge with which to work.  Sadly, she never did.

Today’s article offers some suggestions, based on my (now) years’ of experience, as to how to handle those challenges.

 The Confident Introvert Networker

Whether you are networking for business or for personal reasons, being an introvert can make the process painful.  It doesn’t have to be.


My interest in confidence and its opposite, social anxiety, came as the result of a painful end to a marriage in which I had become increasingly socially isolated. Finding that I had to seek new friends, I decided to go to join groups, such as alumnae groups, and go to meetings and events where I would meet people, only to find that this was very difficult.

At the event, I’d enter the room hopefully and see that there were little clusters of two, three or more people standing in a circle and talking animatedly to one another.  Hopefully, I’d edge closer to the group, only to find that the members would close the distance between them, effectively cutting me off, and literally giving me the shoulder.
I went home time after time, rebuffed and hurt, convinced, as many unconfident people are, that I had a special  secret mark on me that read “unlovable” or “not very interesting, don’t bother” or as a friend of mine liked to say, “They saw the zipper down the back of the pretend suit.”

But I learned from people like the publisher’s representative who came to my college office that most people are a little insecure.  When I described the above kind of experience, this skilled sales person blushed and said, “I’ve done that, too.  I just don’t know how to behave in those circumstances.”

Here are some hints to help you:

Assume everybody’s insecure: they just show it differently.  Regrettably, the social anxiety that we call shyness has escalated in the United States in the past two decades, with an astonishing 50 % now saying that are chronically shy ( up from 40% several decades ago) , and another  40 % saying that have been shy in the past, while 15% admitted to being shy in certain situations. Only 5% of people say they have never been shy. The probability that you will encounter insecure behavior from others as time goes by is very high, even if you don’t immediately recognize it.

How about those folks who come to events  with friends, and continue animatedly talking to the same people without reaching out or making eye contact with anyone else, much less conversation?  Yup.  If you want to observe confidence, locate someone who is circling the room, moving from one person to another, and holding conversations in which they hold eye contact and look interested in meeting someone different.

Become part of the action: Arrive early and offer to help, particularly with a task that involves greeting newcomers: hand out name tags or materials, pass hors d’oeuvres, give directions ….

If there isn’t a task for you, learn the directions – to the meeting room, bathroom, or whatever – and station yourself near the door, ready to direct people who look a little uncertain.

Round up the mavericks:  When I attended events with my godmother, she would often scan the room and say, “There’s someone alone.  Let’s ask him/her to join us.” And she would.

At Christmas, her home was flooded with Christmas cards She, incidentally, traveled all over the world,  being greeted by residents, staying in the homes of people whom she had met at an event, or in a line at a museum, or wherever she was. She was actually a shy person, but she had mastered the art of connecting with people – one at a time.

Make up a group of people who came along and start your own little circle.  But never forget to look for newcomers and welcome them.

Be alert for people who make a casual, friendly remark as you hurry by.  They may be wanting to start a conversation, too.  Help them out.

Don’t try to “make a sale”: Whether you’re actually selling a product or service, or just trying to meet people for personal reasons, pay attention to this wisdom that I got from a friend who was a very successful, prize-winning sales person.  When I asked her the secret of her success, she said, “I never try to make a sale.  I just try to make a friend.”

As you implement these little social skills, become aware that you are becoming more socially powerful than 90% of the population.  That should boost your confidence.

Be Careful, It’s Your Heart: Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

Personal note

This week’s article is a repeat of an article I do every year in February, National Heart Month.

Over the past few years, I have done countless presentations of my talk, now called “The Angina Monologue,”   during which I have not only delivered life-saving information, but I have listened, too, and gotten important information from my audiences.

If you’ve read it before, read again, and remember always to pay attention to the organ that the ancients believed was the seat of consciousness, and which we know as the center of our lives.

Be Careful, It’s Your Heart: Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

February is National Heart Month, and I have been more than ordinarily busy giving my talk, “The Angina Monologue,” in which I describe women’s heart attacks and give preventive advice.  Seeing all the “red” clothing and decorations, hearing of all the “Wear Red” events is exciting – except that cardiac disease occurs all year long, not just in February.

In fact, cardiac disease is the #1 killer of both men and women in the United States; but while the rates for men are declining, the rates for women, particularly in the age 35-54 age group, are rising.

We are surrounded by information about cardiac disease in newspapers, magazines, on the radio and on television, yet most people remain surprisingly ignorant about some of the simple facts of cardiac disease.  So I am once again providing a fuller description of the symptoms, as experienced by real people I have known, including myself.

The “Hollywood Heart Attack,” where the character, clutching his chest,heart slumps to the floor immediately, does sometimes happen.  But many heart attacks do not mimic this model.  In particular, women’s symptoms of heart attack may be very different from men’s in both quality and severity.

(Note:  since first writing this article, I have heard from  some audience members that their husbands also displayed these subtle symptoms, and never progressed to the more typical male symptoms.  Luckily, they paid attention and got help. But, I do think that women are more likely to have these subtle symptoms. No one should overlook them, however.)

It can be too easy to brush these more subtle symptoms aside; as one woman in my cardiac support group said, “Compared to childbirth, this is nothing!”  But of course, they are something.  And the sooner you pay attention and get help, the better the outcome.

Because I paid attention to a small signal, and took action immediately, I have almost no heart damage and was able to return to a full life immediately.

So I’m going to provide some descriptions here that might give women a clearer picture of what to look for.

Chest discomfort:

Men typically experience crushing chest pain and pain radiating down one arm.  Some women do also, but many women do not. I only experienced one second of pressure in the middle of my chest, accompanied by a complete lack of breath – once again for one second only.  Luckily, I paid attention.

Another woman I know reports that she felt as if her chest were on fire.

Any pressure, squeezing or burning in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or comes and goes is a warning sign.

Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach:

One woman I knew had pain in her jaw; another was awakened in the middle of the night by very painful elbows, which she fortunately recognized as being related to her heart.  Others tell of pain in the neck, the shoulder or across the shoulder blades.

At a talk I gave recently, a woman told me of a pain in her jaw.  She had been checked for both a dental problem and a tempero-mandibular joint problem, but no evidence of either had been found.  Should she see a cardiologist, she asked?  I almost shouted, “Yes!”

Any pain in the upper body that can’t be explained should be suspect and you should take action.  See a cardiologist; if the pain is marked or persistent, dial 9-1-1 and go to the ER.

Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort:

Once again, when there is no rational explanation, such as allergy problems or just having run up a flight of stairs, you should be suspicious of shortness of breath.

Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, nausea and vomiting, cold sweats:

I began to experience nausea and lightheadedness a few days after my experience with pressure (I had already seen a doctor, who found nothing wrong with me). It could have been a virus, but I had no temperature. Taking your temperature is a good idea before you decide it is a virus and dismiss the idea of a heart attack.

After I got to the hospital, I began to experience severe gastric distress, a little like the commercials for acid reflux disease, with figurative nuts and bolts revolving around in my stomach!  A doctor asked me, in fact, if I did have acid reflex disease, and when I said no, it was another factor on which they decided to do angioplasty (go in and see if there was blockage).

I know of a young woman athlete who began to faint after she finished races.  She, in fact, had an undiagnosed congenital defect of a heart valve for which she needed surgery.

So, once again, if there isn’t a good explanation for the symptom, seek help.

Feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness — unexplained or on exertion:

I have met at least one woman heart patient who tells of being overwhelmed by inexplicable anxiety as her major symptom. Once again, there was no precipitating event in her life, so it was a very suspicious episode.

The extreme fatigue that a heart attack sufferer experiences is like having a hole in your “fuel tank” from which all the energy has drained out.  One woman I know told me that she was so tired she lay down on her bed, and, feeling cold, wanted to pull the covers up but she couldn’t because it was too much effort.  That was when she realized she needed to get to a hospital.

Take Action

There is an e-mail that keeps circulating on the internet, with advice about heart attacks.  Some of it is good advice: carry an aspirin and take it immediately if you believe you are having a heart attack.  In fact, crunch down on it and wash it down with a full glass of water.

But this e-mail always ends with dangerous advice: “Call and friend or relative and wait by the door,” presumably to have that person take you to the hospital.

This is the message health care providers want you to hear: Do not drive yourself or ask a friend or family member to drive you.

If you have any of the above symptoms, dial 9-1-1.  If you are having a heart attack, emergency responders can start treatment in the ambulance. This can be crucial.

Women, who are often reluctant to have a fuss made about themselves, will dial 9-1-1 in a minute if a loved one is threatened, but will not do so for themselves.

Those few minutes in which you wait for help can make all the difference in the world between life and death, or between a quality life and an impaired life.  One of the possible consequences of heart attack is loss of oxygen to the brain, causing irreversible damage.  You could survive, but only as someone very dependent on others.

The last message I like to leave women with is this:  strive to live the heart-healthy life, and you will feel better than you have in years.  Would you like to wake up every morning eager to start the day, with the kind of zest you had as a child? You can do it!  The women in my support group, cardiac survivors all, glow with health.

The path to  is the path to joy.  And who doesn’t want joy?

Do introverts have more stress?


Well, yes and no.In our extrovert-oriented culture, being an introvert is not easy.

While extroverts thrive on outer stimulation, deriving their energy from it, introverts need quiet time to let the energy tanks fill up – alone. Introverts think deeply before speaking, and as one researcher demonstrated, leadership in a group often goes to the person who speaks up first and most often. Thus extroverts more often end up leaders. Their ideas are more often listened to and implemented.

Because we are an action-oriented, full-speed-ahead culture, introverts can lose out, feeling marginalized, their expertise overlooked.

Many introverts nevertheless lead a satisfying life, immersed in an activity that relies on their ability to be alone and to focus deeply on that activity, supported by those around them.

Others are not so lucky, perhaps hearing the question, “Why are you so quiet?” or “Why don’t you get out there with the others and have fun?” too often from those who are not introverts.

To add to the challenge, the area of the brain that is involved with fear and anxiety is more sensitive in introverts.

The result can be shyness, a form of social anxiety that is rising in the United States, with 50% of respondents admitting to being chronically shy (all of the time), and another 47% being situationally shy (shy in some situations).

Does this mean introverts are doomed to live stressful lives? No, it means that we (I’m including myself here) must lead mindful lives, actively searching for and creating those “Islands of Peace” our natures crave, and being firm and quietly assertive with others who would deny them to us. Saying, “I need time to reflect on this” when faced with an event or a request for an immediate decision is a real and an acceptable response.

And does this imply that extroverts don’t have stress? Not at all. Being a leader of people who are sitting there quietly without sharing their expertise can be unnerving, for example. Think about it next time you choose not to participate.

New Year’s resolutions, will power, and the February Fade

Personal note

Early January found a friend and me in Chicago, that “toddlin’ town,” as the song goes.  An exhausting but exciting day in the Chicago Art Institute found us foot-sore and hungry; dinner at the Russian Tea Time was reminiscent of the old Russian Tea Room in New York, where so many dancers gathered.

Our journey to nostalgia started with a train trip from Minneapolis to Chicago (and back, eventually), our stay at the historic Palmer House, and a trip to the original Marshall Field’s store on “that great street,” State Street.

Then it was home and back to work, ready to confront all the challenges the New Year inevitably brings, such as plans for self-improvement, which prompted today’s article.

Lastly, I will be a guest of Dr. Nancy O’Reilly, Psy.D, founder of radio show starting Friday, February 3, 2012.

New Year’s resolutions, will power, and the February Fade

Did you have high hopes for change in January, but found yourself slipping down from the heights as the month progressed?  Were you firmly resolved to lose weight, stop smoking, exercise more, eat more vegetables and fewer doughnuts, clean out those crammed closets?  And now you’re grabbing doughnuts instead of a walk, eating one forkful of vegetables and convincing yourself that’s enough, jamming more things into your closet, and have stopped stepping on the scale because it doesn’t tell you anything rewarding anyway.

It happens every year.  On January 1, the parking lot at my YWCA is always full.  Regular members, on their way to the exercise room, walk smugly by the long line of frantic new registrants.  The January crowd is annoying for the regulars, who have difficulty locating an empty locker, must wait for each piece of exercise equipment to be free, and stand in line, shivering, for the showers, not to mention the fact that they may have circled for some time before finding an empty parking slot.

But by early February, the crisis period is past.  There is plenty of room and plenty of equipment for all – “all” meaning the hardy souls who have somehow managed to turn their initial impulse to better themselves into a habit pattern.

And if you aren’t a member of the group \that’s still chugging along,  you feel guilty as heck.

Don’t beat yourself up.  It’s not a lack of willpower; it’s a deeply ingrained habit.  In fact, unlike our conscious resolutions to change, habits are buried deep in the unconscious part of the brain. Amnesiacs, who can’t remember their own names, occupations, or residence, are still able to speak Urdu, play the flugelhorn, pig out on chips and chocolate, and bite their fingernails. (Assuming they could do these things before amnesia struck.)

Overcoming any behavior this deeply ingrained sounds like a real challenge, and it is – a challenge we often try to meet by instituting complete and instant reform:  “I will cut back to 1200 calories per day” or “I resolve to exercise for 1 hour per day 6 days a week.” We then whack ourselves mentally over the head when we don’t follow through.

How can we bring about personal change successfully?

The astonishing advice given by expert Dr. Christine Carter of the Center for Greater Good, University of California at Berkeley (PodcastHabit Change),  is that when your resolutions fail, it’s not because you were not up to the challenge; it was because you didn’t make the challenge easy enough.

Instead of setting up a mountain of responsibility that makes your heart sink every time you contemplate it, she suggests that you break down the early steps of habit change into “easy wins” that she calls “turtle steps.”  (You know, those ponderous, slow steps turtles take that nevertheless get them there – probably serenely, too.)

Furthermore, she advises that you make these steps ridiculously easy.  She cites the example of herself getting back to exercising after childbirth.  Her trainer suggested she start by running for four minutes per day for one week, before attempting to get back to her previous level of exercise.  Amazed and a little offended, she asked “Four minutes?”  “OK,” he replied, “two minutes.”

In fact, she went on to point out that your first step could be just to get your running clothes on – every day for seven days.  For people who have difficulty getting up early, much less running, the first step might be just to get up at 6:30 a.m. instead of 7:00 a.m. – every day until it becomes a habit – before trying to be more active.

Other examples of what she calls “turtle steps” might be the following:

You can initially decide to march in place during a one-commercial break on TV. Add in more commercial breaks over time, and you’re easily up to the minimum of 30 minutes per day!

Have trouble settling down and meditating?  Just go to your place of meditation for one minute per day. When you are ready, increase that to two minutes.  And so on.

Do you despair of your ability to diet?  Then don’t diet.  Just cut out one food that you know is bad for you – that package of greasy, salted chips you get with your sandwich, for example. Once it has become easy and automatic to give that up, focus on another food.

These small, easy steps follow very good advice known to those who teach officer training in the military or who train animals:  “Never give a command unless you’re sure it will be obeyed.”  You don’t train a dog by yelling “Come, Roscoe,” when the dog is running away; you don’t train yourself to perform a good habit when your entire body wants to run the other way.

“Turtle steps” are effective because you can be pretty sure you are able to obey them without encountering overwhelming rebellion from your own body.

After instituting these “turtle steps,” it is important to factor accountability into your plan. You may have an “accountability buddy” you meet with once a week, who will ask firmly “Did you stick to your goal?”

If you don’t have an accountability buddy, have a weekly meeting with yourself.  Create a “tracking record,” post it in a prominent place and record the fact that you stuck to your plan every day for one week.

What, you might forget to keep track of your behavior?  Your first “turtle step” might be to create a tracking record, such as a journal or a chart, and look at it at the same time every day. Then proceed with your next little step towards habit change.

What keeps you on track so that you take that next step after having successfully completed the first one? 

When you stay engaged with the new behavior, you may find that you easily exceed your goal – running longer, or taking stairs as well as running.

What if you slip?

Give up the guilt – it won’t help you make change.  In fact you feel you’re a failure, and do less and less….

Say to yourself, “This isn’t quite working.  Why?”  Adopt a problem solving attitude rather than submerging yourself in shame and guilt, which often call you to kick back, be a sloth, and eat a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s best.

When you do indulge in your bad habit, be mindful of what it is really doing for you.  Often the pleasure of indulgence in a bad habit lies in the anticipation, not the actual experience.  Ever notice how finishing off an entire chocolate cake or lolling around in your sweats all day watching old movies sounds and feels great at the beginning, but leaves you feeling sluggish and a little sick?

To summarize the advice of Dr.Carter, nationally known expert on parenting (yes, you can help your children develop good habits with her method, too):

Breaking a larger goal into small, totally doable steps is the key to making a lasting change.

Make sure each step is easy enough to allow you to “win.”

Zoom in on one behavior at a time: One small item per week:  omit the doughnut, do ten minutes of exercise, add one day per week of exercise rather than starting with six days per week.

Repeat this one change until it becomes a habit before going on to the next step.

And remember, when you’re slipping, it was not easy enough.  Go back to an easier step; then work your way forward.

Change is made this way:  two steps forward, one step backward.  So long as the steps forward exceed the steps backward you are making progress.

And finally, remember to track yourself, but don’t attack yourself.

To hear Dr. Christine Carter, nationally known expert on parenting, and Nurse Rona Renner, on a podcast on habit change, go to

Does persistence really pay off?

Personal note

My internet access was down again – for most of last week.
It was frustrating to log on over and over again only to see a spinning disc that kept on revolving forever or to write a message and then find that I couldn’t send it.  These problems have persisted for months, despite changes in internet service providers, modems, and routers.

The suspicion now is that the problem lies in the walls of my 123-year old house, or the telephone wiring coming into the house.

The problem comes and goes.  It’s tempting to just sit there and keep trying to send an e-mail over and over again, mentally cursing when it doesn’t work. But my IT manager and I are on a detective hunt, and have not nearly exhausted all the options.

This is turn reminds me of all the times in life where we keep trying to make something work.  How do we know when it is a good idea to keep trying, and when it is futile? Today’s article provides some guidelines.

Does persistence really pay off?

We’ve heard these phrases all of our lives:

“Persistence pays off”, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”, and “Success comes the day after you give up.” But are they really true?  If you’re feeling tired, despondent and burned out, you may wonder just how long you have to persist before you achieve success.

I used to tell my students that if you keep hitting your head against a stone wall, something’s bound to give.  I wouldn’t count on it being the stone wall.

Here are some guidelines for engaging in what I call “enlightened persistence.”

Take breaks: Being persistent doesn’t mean continuously pursuing a goal.  Schedule breaks: a few minutes each hour to stretch and relax; one day a week completely free from effort on a project that otherwise preoccupies you; a weekend per month when you get away from it all. Make sure you take those breaks!  Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is get away from your work.

Try different words: Are you trying to communicate ideas over and over again to the same people in the same words? If you need help and aren’t getting it, for example, you might switch from saying, wearily, “Do you suppose you could help me out with this?” to “I really need your help right now.”

Try different motivators: If you offer the same incentives (or disincentives) to the same person over and over, and don’t see any results, you need to back off and look at the situation…and at the person receiving the motivator.

One client was frustrated to find that her teenage daughter repeatedly violated the parents’ rules, even though the mother regularly punished the girl by grounding her.  The fact that it didn’t work doesn’t mean the girl is incorrigible; it does mean that this was the wrong motivator for change in this person.

Try a different path: If you would like to be an enthusiastic member of a team, a friendly neighbor, an adventurous person who attracts similar companions, a success at selling a product you really believe in… whatever it is you want…maybe you’re trying with the wrong group of people, or in the wrong place.

Be willing to jettison groups or processes that aren’t being fruitful.

Continuing to persist in the face of failure sounds admirable, but without being willing to vary your behavior, you are setting yourself up for stress and its worst outcome, depression.

Enlighten yourself!  To bring about change, you need to be willing to change.

Why Are You Running, If There’s No Prize?

Personal note:

My recent trip to San Francisco left me feeling mellow and creative.  I had to take a deep breath as I stepped back into my ordinary life, and remind myself not to repeat automatic (and stressful) patterns of thought and behavior.
One good antidote to stress is laughter, and when I left the plane, I was reminded of an article I wrote last year after another trip, asking the question, “Why are you running if there’s no prize?”  Then I was irritated; now I was amused.

I’m repeating the article here.  Hopefully you will laugh, too, and remember that life just doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it. friends!

Why Are You Running, If There’s No Prize?

I arrived home from a trip recently and observed the same scenario I see every time I travel. When I get off an airplane, I step on the moving sidewalk and rest my carry-on bag on the moving railing, stepping to the right, just as the instructions say: “stand” on the right, and “walk” on the left.

I’m the only one standing. Everyone else is running.

As I stand there, passenger after passenger rushes by me, dragging luggage, brushing against me, bumping into me. Many of them glare at me; some even make a remark to their companion (not to me, of course – that would be rude).

Now some of these people may be rushing to catch a connecting flight at another gate. But a surprising number of them are at the baggage carousel when I arrive.
On this last trip, I found them all there, looking anxiously up the chute to see if the bags were coming. As I strolled up, the carousel started and my bag came off first.

I picked it up, and I was mean enough to smile and wave to the others as I left.

Why were these people racing when we all know that it takes time to unload baggage?  There is no prize for getting there early.  Yet they continue to do it – automatically.

When you are racing to get someplace, are you clear if there is a prize and what the prize might be?  Where is it coming from?

Or is there some punishment you fear?  From whom?  And how important is it?  Is it really disapproval or something more severe?  And if the situation is out of your hands, as it is with the issue of getting luggage unloaded, why should punish yourself?  Because that is what you are doing when you undergo unnecessary anxiety.

Even if you miss a connecting flight, there will be another one. Is it worth stressing your body over?

In many cases, you have no control over the situation:  the carousel will start when the baggage has been unloaded, traffic will resume when the traffic jam clears, the line to the cashier will move only as fast as it can….
And there’s nothing you can do.

Oh, wait, there is – just breathe.  Become a curious observer of your surroundings – buildings, trees, people, too.  Who knows what you will find when you are conscious of where you are when your body is actually there.

And then you can collect the only true prize:  inner peace.

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