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How to Use This Blog

Summary: “Use my articles to kick-start conversations.”

Now that I have posted 60 articles on this blog (see the Topics menu above), let me pause a moment and make some comments on how I hope some of you are using, or will use, this blog.

I hope some, perhaps many of you, use these blog postings as conversation kick-starters with people important to you…your boss, coworkers, subordinates, your spouse, a child, friend, enemy, student, or anyone. Maybe you can invite the other person to read a particular blog entry and then discuss it with you. Ask them, “Do you think there is any merit to the idea or ideas presented in the article…does the idea make sense to you? Or, do you think the author is full of crap? If so, why? How does the article or advice relate to us, and our relationship?”

For example, say you have an employee, friend, spouse or child who seems to be struggling a bit with anger issues. And you want to try and help him, or her, if they are open to it. Invite them to read the posting on Anger Trigger Management and then discuss it with you. For what it is worth, the main ideas in the Anger Trigger posting came from a book by R. Douglas Fields titled Why We Snap. The book is 416-pages long. That’s about seven hours of concentrated reading for most people. My goal is to capture the main ideas of books (and videos, and articles) in one page if possible…my apologies to the authors when I am not so successful. I always hope you will read the entire book, but I am aware that many people will simply not hang in there for 416 pages. However, at a minimum, I hope to at least help you and the other person understand the main ideas of the book, or video, or topic and initiate a conversation about these ideas.

Here are some possible applications:

  • Kick-start the employee review/development process (maybe talk about a different topic monthly or quarterly).
  • Kick-start a conversation with a friend, child, parent, sibling.
  • Kick-start a team discussion about an important teamwork topic. Encourage the whole team to discuss the article.
  • Kick- start a conversation with your spouse or life partner about some sort of relationship issue…money, parenting, career, dealing with your parents, stress, happiness, living, dying, everything in between, etc.

Having said all of this, I am open to suggestions. If you are looking for a way to initiate a conversation with someone, maybe I can address the topic on this blog. I am interested in a broad spectrum of issues related to human behavior…maybe I’ll write about it (maybe not). Good luck with your conversations. Have fun!

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Sifting – Chapter 21: Launching Synchronicity

This posting is part of a series on my book Sifting. If you have not read the previous postings, please visit the menu above (click on Sifting) for a chronological listing of any previous chapters. Thanks!  


Chapter 21: Launching Synchronicity

Bob: What do you mean by “synchronicity”?

Sift: Synchronicity has to do with the occurrence of events that seem to be meaningfully related, but not causally related. Most people think of synchronistic events as remarkable coincidences. For example, you think about a friend you haven’t talked to in years, and within a short time, they call you. Or someone tells you that you will encounter several pennies on the street or sidewalk and that they represent good luck. Then, over the next few days, you seem to run across pennies everywhere you go.

Bob: Is synchronicity related to some sort of magical force of the universe?

Sift: Not necessarily. In most cases, synchronicity has to do with the way your brain filters incoming stimuli. Your sensory organs are constantly bombarded with incoming information. This would quickly overwhelm you if you didn’t have some sort of system to filter out the unimportant and only allow the important to pass through and compete for your attention. Humans have relatively sophisticated brain circuitry that takes care of the filtering process. You can, however, program this circuitry to notice specific things or incoming information related to specific things. One technique for programming this system to notice specific things is simply to focus on them mentally. For example, if you buy a new car, even if it is a relatively unique car, you will likely encounter many identical cars over the next few weeks. It is not magic; you programmed your brain to notice that particular kind of car by mentally focusing on it.

Bob: That’s why people run across all the pennies, isn’t it?

Sift: Yes. Next time you are at a sporting event or any event with a large crowd, look at the crowd in general. Then, close your eyes and think about mainly seeing people wearing red clothes. Then, open your eyes. Now, close your eyes and think about mainly seeing people wearing green. Then, open your eyes. You mainly notice what you think about.

Bob: Ok, I get it. If I think about how I want my life to unfold, I will more likely notice things related to making that happen in my life. I’ll, in effect, launch synchronicity in my life.

Sift: Very good, Bob. That is exactly how it works. In terms of the hero’s journey, doors will open for you, and helping hands will appear to assist you on your journey. Bob, there is a way to enhance this process.

Bob: Tell me about it.

Sift: You write things down. One of the best ways to program your brain to notice things is to express them in writing.

Bob: I’ll bet that’s why so many of the self-help books advise you to put your goals in writing. I can use my journal for this, can’t I?

Sift: Yes.

Bob: Can we talk about the kind of things I need to write about?

Sift: Sure. Spend some quality time thinking about what you would do if you had all the time and money you needed. And think about the things you are currently doing. Would you still do them if you had all the time and money you needed? What would you do if you had no concern for financial rewards or social acceptance? Remember, this kind of thinking is meant to launch synchronicity in your life. Life will always present you with plenty of situations where you have to consider the financial and social implications of your choices. I want to help you move in the direction of at least minimizing these situations. After you think about all of this, I suggest that you block out two pages of your journal and make two lists.

Bob: What kind of lists?

Sift: First, make a list of things you are grateful for, a gratitude list. Just get the list started, and you can add to it as you think more about it. Then, make up what I call “a genie list.”

Bob: What’s a genie list?

Sift: Remember the mythology about the genie that appears and says, “Your wish is my command?” Make a list of the things you want to be, do, and have. Of course, make sure the things you put on the list will most likely take you in the direction of joyfully participating in life.

Bob: I get it. If I write these things down, it will program my brain to notice things related to items on the lists. It will launch synchronicity related to both the things I am currently grateful for and the things I want to be, do, or have.

Sift: Exactly. And Bob, look for things I call “progress handholds,” similar to handholds rock climbers use to climb a steep surface. Each handhold located helps make a little progress and keeps the climber moving in the right direction. Look all around you. Look for things in your current circumstances that can serve as handholds to help you pursue the things you want – the things on your lists.

Bob: So, when people tell you to focus on the journey and not the destination, they are really telling you to learn to enjoy making progress as much as the final achievement of a goal?

Sift: You bring up an excellent point, Bob. I think this would be a good time for you to spend some time with your journal getting your lists started. Why don’t you do that for the rest of the day. Tomorrow morning, we can talk about something called “the progress principle.”

Bob: Okay, Sift. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.


End Chapter 21

Author’s Notes:

Main takeaway: You can program your brain to notice things you need to make progress. 

  1. Can you think of an example of synchronicity in your life? If you see any pennies on the ground this week, think of this chapter about synchronicity and how synchronicity works.
  2. Make a list of things you are grateful for, a gratitude list.
  3. Create a genie list.
  4. Look for “progress handholds” related to the things on your genie list.


 The entire book will eventually be posted on this blog. However, if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for a friend, you can find it at this link: Sifting

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Conversations About Curiosity

Summary: “Share your curiosities with others to help discover your calling in life” 

I’ve previously written about the value of discovering and pursuing your true calling in life. However, sometimes when I advise people to do that, they tell me, “I just don’t know my calling. How can I go about discovering my calling if I don’t have a clue? I don’t know how to even get started on doing such a thing?” My thoughts are if you explore things you are passionate about, you might discover some interesting connections between your passions and your calling. Frequently when I have such thoughts, synchronicity kicks in and dumps something in my lap that is relevant to my thoughts. In this case, the “something dumped” was Steven Kotler’s new book The-Habit-of-Ferocity (free download).

While reading Kotler’s book, I stumbled across an interesting exercise designed to help people discover, or be reminded of, things they are passionate about. Kotler advises people to begin by writing down 25 things they are curious about. When I tried this simple exercise, I found that there were plenty of strong connections between what I am curious about and what I am passionate about. It strikes me that this will often be the case with humans. Maybe it will help you discover you calling, maybe not. In any case, I think it is a good use of your time. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Give it a try (don’t worry if you can only come up with 6, 16, 19 things, try for 25 but just do your best).
  2. You and a friend, or spouse, or co-worker, relax together (maybe over a glass of wine, or a beer, or coffee, or tea), share your list with each other, and talk about the items on your list.
  3. See if you can help each other recognize trends (ideas that are related to each other).

Perhaps in doing this you will discover more about your potential calling in life. At a minimum you will probably have an enjoyable conversation with the other person.

I’m sort of cheating with this exercise. I know my calling in life…to be a teacher. And I know my main subject…human behavior. Here are a few items that ended up on my curiosity list:

  • What are the payoffs for unproductive behavior?
  • Why do some people tolerate continued abuse?
  • What are some of the best movable jazz patterns on guitar?
  • Why are so many people addicted to busyness?
  • What can people really do about unhealthy stress (in a very practical sense)?
  • How can you best support the success of your adult children?

Do you see a pattern? Except for the jazz guitar thing, most of them relate to understanding behavior. Hopefully, you will see an imbedded pattern in your list. Who knows, maybe you will actually discover your calling. And maybe pursuing this calling will help you joyfully participate in life. Give it a try!

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Sifting – Chapter 20: Happiness is Not Enough

This posting is part of a series on my book Sifting. If you have not read the previous postings, please visit the menu above (click on Sifting) for a chronological listing of any previous chapters. Thanks!  


Chapter 20: Happiness is Not Enough

Bob: Sift, I’ve been thinking about your comment that happiness is not enough. Why is that?

Sift: As I mentioned, most people think of happiness in the smiley-face sense. It is true that happiness is about experiencing positive emotions; however, there are several reasons why happiness is not enough and why focusing on well-being is a better life strategy. As it turns out, happiness is typically the weakest contributor among many strategies you can choose to create and nurture a sense of well-being.

Bob: Why is that?

Sift: Mainly because of misunderstandings and myths related to the concept of happiness, including what really makes people happy, and how long they can expect the happiness to last.

Bob: Sounds interesting. Tell me more.

Sift: The first insight is that people are not good at forecasting their emotions. They almost always over or underestimate how good or bad they will feel when things happen to them. They also over and underestimate how long the good or bad feelings will last.

Bob: Why?

Sift: When people experience events, especially events perceived as good or bad, they usually focus too much on the event itself and ignore potential offsetting factors that might occur as the future unfolds. One of the classic examples of this relates to lottery winners. They primarily focus on the positive benefits of having all the money and not the negative aspects of attaining sudden wealth.

Bob: I get it. Like not knowing who your true friends are and wondering if people are just trying to figure out a way to get you to give them some money.

Sift: Exactly. And the same thing happens with events that are perceived as negative. Say your house burns down. You might focus mainly on the event – the loss of your home – and ignore all the good things that will happen in the future: friends who help you, getting new things to replace some of the old things you didn’t really care for; and normal life will continue as it always has: things like family get-togethers, time with friends, and other pleasant experiences. Poor forecasting and focusing only on the good or bad event can cause you to misjudge the long-term impact of the event.

Bob: Given my current circumstances, I understand these ideas quite well. When I made a lot of choices to accumulate houses, cars, and other things, I didn’t think much about the offsetting issues of excessive debt or the time and energy it takes to maintain all of those things.

Sift: Let’s talk about those things, Bob. That will help you understand another common misunderstanding related to sustaining long-term happiness. Humans quickly habituate, or adapt, to positive events and possessions. After a short time, any such change is viewed as their “new normal,” and they typically increase their desires and need more to maintain their level of satisfaction.

Bob: It’s like an addiction. You always want more.

Sift: Yes, and if you do not get more, you revert to what is called your “happiness set-point” within a short time. All humans have a natural tendency to revert to a certain range of happiness in the absence of influential or novel experiences. The same thing occurs when you experience positive or negative events. For example, after a breakup with a romantic partner, a promotion, marriage, a job change, getting a new car or house, or suffering a permanent injury, people quickly move back to their happiness set-point. That is one of the main reasons why happiness is not enough in terms of a life strategy.

Bob: Can you do anything about it?

Sift: Yes, you can expand your focus to include the ongoing pursuit of overall well-being. Bob, there are five specific paths, or strategies, you can pursue to increase and nurture well-being. And we can talk about all of them. The pursuit of happiness is just one of the paths; but as I mentioned, it is the weakest contributor to overall well-being and will never be enough on a stand-alone basis.

In answer to your specific question about what you can do about this, you can offset the natural tendency to adapt to events and things that you think will create lasting happiness with variety strategies and appreciation strategies.

Bob: What do you mean by that?

Sift: Proactively work to introduce variety into your life. Find ways to take on new challenges at work. Spend time doing new things with your wife and friends. Get new people involved in your life. For example, if you want to enjoy your house or vacation home more, invite people over to enjoy it with you. In general, find ways to do new things to offset your natural tendency to habituate or adapt to things in your life.

And learn to pause and appreciate what you have. Focus mindfully on things and experiences, rather than taking them for granted. Savor and completely enjoy them by dwelling specifically on how they make you feel. Spend as much time enjoying the happiness you already have. As you do, try to figure out what will make you happy in the future.

Bob: Okay, Sift, you just opened up a real can of worms with your comment about the five paths to well-being. I want to talk about all of those.

Sift: Bob, do you remember when you had to take pre-requisite courses in college? They wanted you to take a lower-level course to prepare you for a higher-level course.

Bob: Yes.

Sift: It would be best if we could cover a few more issues before we talk about the five paths. It would help you make the most of the knowledge when we talk about them.

Bob: Okay, what should we talk about next?

Sift: I think it would be good to talk about launching synchronicity.

Bob: Sounds interesting. Let’s do it.


End Chapter 20

Author’s Notes:

Main takeaway: Go beyond happiness and seek overall well-being.    

  1. Can you think of an event in your life, good or bad, that eventually turned out the opposite of your original assessment?
  2. How can you offset the tendency to adapt to positive things that happen in your life?
  3. Why do you think happiness is not always enough?


 The entire book will eventually be posted on this blog. However, if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for a friend, you can find it at this link: Sifting

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The Story of the Gordian Knot

Summary: “Untangle a complex problem one strand at a time.”

Let’s chat about Alexander the Great for a moment. I always liked the so-called Alexandrian solution. In summary, someone tied a section of rope into an unbelievably complex knot in a kingdom-in-need-of-a-king located in an area that is considered modern day Turkey. It was called the Gordian knot; named after an ox-cart driving peasant farmer named Gordias.

To make a long story short, it was a tough knot to unravel and the people of the kingdom declared that the first person to untie the Gordian knot would become the king of the land. A guy named Alexander came along and developed a new and unorthodox set of knot-untying rules. Rather than sticking with traditional knot-untying techniques, Alex whipped out his sword, simply cut the knot in half and declared the problem solved, added the words “the Great” to his name and took over as king of the land.

Much later in history, a boxer named Muhammad Ali used an unorthodox fighting technique called the rope-a-dope in his 1974 Rumble in the Jungle match against George Foreman. After knocking out Foreman in the eighth round, Ali loudly proclaimed that he was “the Greatest.” Alexander the Great, being dead for over 2000 years at the time, was in no position to argue with Ali’s brash one-upmanship. So it appears that throughout history, if a person does something extraordinary and unorthodox (especially related in some way to a rope), they often feel a desire to attach some sort of superlative form of the adjective “great” to their name.

Anyhow, the Alexandrian solution became a metaphor for thinking out of the box. However, while you are thinking about a thinking-out-of-the-box solution, you can work in parallel and use another strategy that often works better in a practical sense and in the real world. You can try to find one little strand of the Gordian knot-like problem and unravel it, and then another, and then another.

Think in terms of tangled up Christmas tree lights or a complex knot in your shoelaces or earbuds. The slice through it with a sword solution will not work out too well in these kinds of situations. It is better to start by unraveling one little section of the overall knot and patiently keep doing that until you get everything untangled.

Take any problem that you have been struggling with for a long time (business or personal, it does not matter), and think in terms of “is there some little piece of this overall mess I can unravel just to get started?” As you unravel more and more of the strands, the subsequent strands often are easier to unravel.

What is your biggest “workplace or personal knot?” What is the easiest thing you can do today to begin unraveling it? Why don’t you give that a try? If you are successful, that would be great wouldn’t it – perhaps even greater, or the greatest.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris


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Sifting: Chapter 19 – Resetting Bob’s Direction

This posting is part of a series on my book Sifting. If you have not read the previous postings, please visit the menu above (click on Sifting) for a chronological listing of any previous chapters. Thanks!  


Chapter 19: Resetting Bob’s Direction

Bob: Hello, Sift.

Sift: Hello, Bob.

Bob: That little exercise you suggested turned out to be another eye opener for me – and quite a history lesson. As I got more into it, I started remembering people and events I hadn’t thought of in years, including some major life-shaping people and events.

Sift: That is what usually happens. Did it help you understand how your tapes influence your current choices?

Bob: Absolutely! I had no idea that so many things that happened in the past are still influencing my choices. You were right. It is like solving a puzzle and understanding how I created my current circumstances. I had many interesting thoughts about my history, but I had one huge aha moment.

Sift: What was that, Bob?

Bob: I thought I was a pretty good decision maker, but exploring my tapes taught me that I wasn’t really making a lot of new decisions. Many of what I thought were new decisions, were actually old decisions. That’s another way to think about tapes, isn’t it? Tapes are old decisions. And I didn’t even make most of the decisions. Others made them for me, and I never challenged them. I just accepted them as my own choices, and they created patterns of behavior around them that carried over into my adult life. That’s what you were talking about earlier when you told me to make sure my decisions were my own decisions, right?

Sift: Right.

Bob: The thought that I have been doing that, relying on tapes to make choices, is frightening, fascinating and, in one sense, exhilarating! With what you have already taught me, I truly believe that, as they say, my life will begin again at 40. It’s a bit weird, but I think it is time for me to begin making my own decisions.

Sift: Bob, you are turning out to be an extraordinary learner. I am impressed with how you are putting all the pieces of this puzzle together.

Bob: Thanks, Sift!

Sift: Bob, the exercise I suggested placed you mentally and emotionally in the past for an extended period of time. There was value in doing that, but I think it would be best if we spent some time talking about the present and future now. Are you interested in doing that?

Bob: Yes.

Sift: Good, let’s talk about resetting your direction.

Bob: Uh, okay. What exactly does that mean?

Sift: Now that you understand more about obstacles that can prevent you from pursuing your calling, this is a good time to begin talking about the process of going forward – about some things you can do to get on the right path in life and stay on it. When you go on any journey, including a hero’s journey, you need some way to determine if you are at least going in the right or wrong direction. That’s why it is a good idea to establish a directional benchmark to evaluate your new choices. Tell me, Bob, at this point in your life, what do you most want to move toward? Can you think of a way to clearly articulate that?

Bob: When you asked me that, the first thing that popped into my mind was all that stuff you told me earlier about emotions being my only direct source of knowledge.

Sift: Good, can you remember the five broad categories of emotions, Bob?

Bob: I think so. Joy, sadness, anger, fear…what was the other one?

Sift: Affection. It has a lot to do with people’s desire for acceptance by those important to them. Bob, I think your spontaneous thoughts are absolutely taking you in the right direction. Now, with those five emotions in mind, can you articulate what you most want to move toward in life?

Bob: Uh, yeah. I want to move toward joy. Can I use that as my directional benchmark?

Sift: Tell me a little more about what you mean when you say you want to move toward joy.

Bob: Sift, can I take a few minutes to think about this?

Sift: Yes, I think that is a good idea.

Bob sat up straight in his chair, breathed in and out deeply and slowly, closed his eyes, and sat still and silent. After a few minutes, he nodded his head, opened his eyes, and continued his conversation with Sift.

Bob: I want to move in the direction of joyfully participating in life.

Sift: Bob, I like the way you stated that. I like it a lot. I just want to make sure I fully understand what you mean when you say that.

Bob: I want to be happy. Is that a better way of saying it?

Sift: No, I like the way you originally stated your directional benchmark better. I just think it is important that we expand on what it means and take it beyond the idea of just being happy.

Bob: What do you mean by “expand it”? I thought happiness was the most sought after thing in the world?

Sift: Happiness is one of the components of overall well-being, and that is what I encourage you to focus on – overall well-being. If you explore happiness, you will discover that it is not enough on its own. It is a seemingly minor distinction, but in reality, it is not minor at all. Many people focus excessively on what you might think of as “the Hollywood- or Madison Avenue-version” of happiness and think of the smiley-face aspects of happiness. That is never enough to joyfully participate in life.

Bob: That makes sense. If happiness is a subset of well-being, happiness becomes a part of my overall focus?

Sift: Yes.

Bob: And what other kinds of things are included in well-being?

Sift: Things that create peace of mind, contentment, and other forms of life satisfaction.

Bob: Okay, so it’s not just about jumping up and down, rah-rah experiences?

Sift: No, not at all.

Bob: Okay, my directional benchmark is to joyfully participate in life, and, in general, that means I will make choices that move me in that direction.

Sift: Yes, Bob. When you are faced with significant choices or decisions, ask the question, “Will this choice take me toward or away from joyfully participating in life?” Of course, try to minimize or eliminate choices that take you away from joyfully participating in life.

Bob: Sift, this all makes sense, but why is it so important?

Sift: What was your directional benchmark before we had this discussion? How did you evaluate your choices?

Bob: I’m not really sure.

Sift: How would you categorize your life? What was your typical day like?

Bob: The word that comes to mind when you ask me that is chaotic.

Sift: Having a directional benchmark can help immunize you from chaos.

Bob: Huh? How does that immunize me from chaos?

Sift: Have you ever been to Penn Station in New York City during rush hour?

Bob: Sure, I used to catch trains from Manhattan to Long Island all the time.

Sift: Did things seem chaotic during rush hour?

Bob: Always!

Sift: I know it looked chaotic, but that was not really true chaos you were observing.

Bob: Huh?

Sift: It was not true chaos because, for the most part, everyone knew where he or she was going. Sure, they were zigzagging across the terminal and occasionally bumping into each other, and it looked much like chaos. However, if you stand above it all and observe the flow of traffic, something very interesting happens when they announce a track change. You can see subtle shifts in the flow of traffic. People do not panic; they just adjust their movement and trajectory and head in the direction of the new track. Since they know where they are headed, changes do not affect them much.

Bob: Wow, I never thought of that. If you know where you are headed, it is easier to deal with unexpected events, isn’t it?

Sift: Much easier. As we talk more, we will explore other ways to get more clarity about the goals that support your desire to joyfully participate in life; but step one is to get you going in the right direction and help you keep going in the right direction.

Bob: Sift, it strikes me that this is really the answer to the question, What do I want to be when I grow up? and it can provide me with excellent guidance on my specific goals.

Sift: Goals, by definition, involve destinations, and setting them is a worthwhile thing to do. However, your desire to joyfully participate in life provides you with an ongoing focus that supersedes any specific goal. The question of what to be or do when you grow up is not really about being a butcher, baker, candlestick maker, doctor or lawyer. It’s not about whether to marry, to have children, to buy a house, to own a certain car, to have a certain title, to make a certain amount of money, or anything like that. The question is whether or not pursuing these goals will move you toward or away from joyfully participating in life. Moving in the right direction is the most important thing. And in terms of the hero’s journey, trying to figure out your path counts as being on the path. When you start moving in the right direction, by even thinking about what your true path might be, you have begun your hero’s journey.

Bob: Sift, this is very clarifying for me. If someone asks me what I want to do with my life, my answer is to joyfully participate in life. Everything else is in the service of achieving that goal on an ongoing basis. They may not totally understand that response, but I do; and that is what matters.

Sift: Congratulations, Bob, you have reset your direction in life.

Bob: I am going to write some things in my journal now. I need to take some time to process all the thoughts on my mind.

Sift: Good idea, Bob.


End Chapter 19

Author’s Notes:

Main takeaway: Use joyfully participating in life as your directional benchmark for making day-to-day life choices.   

  1. Why do you think Bob came to the conclusion that his tapes represented old decisions? Why does that matter?
  2. What is the relationship between your choices and your potential to joyfully participate in life?
  3. How can having a directional benchmark help you minimize chaos in your life?


 The entire book will eventually be posted on this blog. However, if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for a friend, you can find it at this link: Sifting

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The Sermon

Summary: “Better than just telling people what is important to you, show them!” 


The Sermon

Edgar Guest

I’d rather see a sermon, than hear one any day.

I’d rather you walk with me, than merely show the way.

For the lessons you deliver, may be very wise and true,

But I think I’ll get my lessons, by observing what you do.

I might misunderstand all this high advice you give,

But I won’t misunderstand how you act and how you live.


As Mr. McGuire said to Ben,”Will you think about it? Enough said!


Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Sifting – Chapter 18: Behavior Tapes

This posting is part of a series on my book Sifting. If you have not read the previous postings, please visit the menu above (click on Sifting) for a chronological listing of any previous chapters. Thanks!  


Chapter 18: Behavior Tapes

Bob: Sift, I am ready to talk about tapes.

Sift: Good, Bob.

Bob: So, tapes can cause you to develop an external locus of control?

Sift: Yes, they have the potential to do that.

Bob: This is amazing.

Sift: What?

Bob: I didn’t even ask if you were there. I just started talking to you, and you responded.

Sift: That is the way it works when we have a strong connection.

Bob: I feel more comfortable that you will be there when I need to talk.

Sift: Good.

Bob: Okay, back to tapes. What kind of tapes are you talking about?

Sift: I am talking about mental tapes encoded into your brain and nervous system early in life. A tape is a deeply embedded, programmed response to certain events, similar to a programmed computer routine that, when activated, strongly influences your behavior. The term tape was used to describe these mental influences when programmers literally used reels of magnetic tape to record computer programs. Today, you might also think of them as software or apps for the brain. The point is, a large portion of your behavior, especially what some experts refer to as your “non-thinking,” or “automatic,” behavior, is strongly influenced or controlled by these tapes.

Bob: So, if tapes cause me to automatically respond without thinking much about it, they can get me into trouble, right?

Sift: That is partially right. Tapes can be quite helpful or, yes, they can create problems for you.

Bob: I don’t understand. Give me an example of how a tape can be helpful.

Sift: Almost everyone has a “look both ways before you cross the street” tape. This tape served you well as a child,and it continues to serve you well as an adult. Stepping off a curb usually triggers, or activates, your “look both ways” tape. You do not really think much about it, but the tape triggers a very specific and pre-determined behavior routine in response to your circumstances. Again, it is similar to a computer program. Many of these tapes that help you respond to routine and recurring events, such as driving, shaving, or tying your shoes, are quite helpful and save you a lot of time and energy. You wouldn’t want to have to rethink all the steps and choices you must make when driving every time you get behind the wheel of your car, would you? However, many tapes trigger behavior that does not serve you well.

Bob: Give me an example of that kind of tape.

Sift: In terms of maintaining an internal locus of control, one of the most challenging tapes to deal with is any form of the “everybody ought to love me all the time” tape. It is just human nature for people to want to be accepted, and even liked, by others; but it is not a realistic belief. You can work hard to treat others with respect and kindness, and some people still misunderstand you and get upset with you at times. With the exception of certain people with serious mental disorders, everybody has some version of this tape.

This is actually an example of a tape that can serve you well or cause problems for you, depending on the strength or intensity of the tape. It goes back to maintaining an appropriate balance between an internal and external locus of control. It is best to think in terms of extremes when you are considering tapes.

Bob: What do you mean by that?

Sift: If we consider the issue of caring what others think of us, one extreme is not caring at all. Absolutely not caring what anyone thinks of you is one of the factors mental health professionals often use to determine if someone is a sociopath or psychopath. For example, if Charles Manson says he does not care what anyone thinks of him, he probably means it. Others, without serious mental problems, do not really mean it. On the other extreme, if you care too much about what others think of you, you probably have a pretty strongly encoded “everybody ought to love me all the time” tape, and it can cause problems for you.

Bob: I get it. Sometimes, I shoot my mouth off about not caring what others think of me, but it’s mainly bragging. It always bothers me when people get upset with me. So, let me see if I understand this correctly. Going to the extremes is what gets you in trouble with some tapes, not necessarily the tape itself. The key to dealing with tapes is determining whether or not the behavior triggered by the tape is serving you well?

Sift: That is an excellent conclusion, Bob.

Bob: So tapes can become obstacles and get in the way of pursuing your calling in life.

Sift: Yes, stroke patterns and other life experiences often create tapes that prevent you from thinking in the present about your responses to the events in your life. Just as your past choices created your present circumstances, your current choices create your future circumstances. Therefore, if you are not pleased with your current circumstances, it is time to challenge some of the choices you made in the past and begin to make better ones in the present.

Bob: I’m certainly not pleased with my present circumstances. Wait a minute – it would be more accurate to say I am neither pleased nor displeased with my circumstances. How all this unfolds, including getting fired, can turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. I like all the new things I am learning. It’s up to me, isn’t it? If I hold onto the beliefs that are serving me well and upgrade or replace the ones that aren’t, I’ll be better off in the future, won’t I?

Sift: You are correct,Bob. It is all up to you. It is important for you to understand that no new learning takes place, and no lasting change in behavior occurs, unless you disrupt some of your current, often strongly held beliefs. Bob, I have a suggestion for you.

Bob: What is that?

Sift: I think this would be a good time for us to pause our discussion for the rest of the day and give you some time to explore your tapes.

Bob: Which tapes?

Sift: Tapes related to your career, money, marriage, parenting, possessions, religion, political beliefs, and tapes related to any other area of your life that you intuitively sense you need to explore to create a better future for you and your family.

Bob: Any suggestions on how to go about doing that, or how to get started?

Sift: This is another good use of your journal. Bob, you are about to turn 40, right?

Bob: Yes, on Saturday.

Sift: Block out eight blank pages in your journal and use them to review your life history. Label the pages 0–5 , 6–10, 11–15, 16–20, and so on, representing five-year periods of your life up to the present. Then, start making informal notes on two things for each period: the people who influenced you, good or bad; and the significant events that occurred during the same period, good or bad. You can write single words, short phrases, draw pictures, doodle, or do anything you want to trigger your memories of the influential people and events. Then, scan these pages and let your thoughts go where they want to go. Think of the lessons you learned from these people and events that are still serving you well and those that are not. Your thoughts will likely trigger memories of new people and events you didn’t think of originally. If that happens, just go to the appropriate page and add the information. Use the rest of the day to get this process started, but think of it as an ongoing process – a process that will help you sift through your tapes and determine areas where you might want to challenge your beliefs. Don’t think of this as an assignment for today. Think of it as an assignment for the rest of your life. Enjoy it. Take your time with it. We can continue our discussion tomorrow, or whenever you are ready.

Bob: Sift, my mind is already working on the process. I am thinking of people and events as we speak. I agree, a pause right now is a good idea. I’ll talk to you later.

Sift: Okay, Bob. Enjoy the process.


End Chapter 18

Author’s Notes:

Main takeaway: Much of your current behavior is driven by historic events. Many of what you think of as your current choices were actually made long ago?  

  1. How would you describe a behavior tape to someone else?
  2. Can you think of some of your strongly imbedded behavior tapes (some that are helpful and some that are not)?
  3. What kind of problems can a strongly imbedded “everybody ought to love me all the time tape” cause?
  4. What people and events in your life created some of your predominant behavior tapes?


 The entire book will eventually be posted on this blog. However, if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for a friend, you can find it at this link: Sifting

Open post

The Message of Clutter

Summary: “A clean desk is a sign of a centered, grounded, orderly and focused person.” 

I am fully aware that many people believe a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind. The opposing viewpoint is that a person’s external world is a reflection of their internal world. If the latter is the case, a quick look at many people’s workspace suggests that they are secretly (or more likely not so secretly to those around them) experiencing a tremendous amount of internal chaos and disorder.

The word clutter apparently is a derivative of the Old English word clotter. And clotter is also the source of the word clot – to form into lumps and inhibit the free flow of substances. In other words, clutter has to do with things getting stuck, as in the healthy flow of work in and out of your office.

Now let’s talk about first impressions. When you experience something for the first time, your brain is designed to immediately begin recording mental associations related to the experience. In general, there are only two broad categories of mental associations, positive associations (I feel good about this and want to approach or embrace it) and negative associations (I feel bad about this and want to escape or move away from it). Much of this process of creating and assigning a positive or negative spin to these associations is handled by your subconscious mind. Therefore, you (and others) record many of these “approach or move away” messages for future consideration without always being fully aware of doing so.

Enough brain talk – here is a real-world example. Say you are a bank officer with an incredibly cluttered office. The first time a new prospect enters your office they will likely consciously or subconsciously think, “What, this person wants to handle my money and financial affairs? I’m not sure I am comfortable with that.”

Most people spend a lot of time getting their house ready to list for sale. Agents often encourage sellers to fix up, clean up, turn on the lights, bake cookies and do other things to create positive associations in the minds of prospects. If you go on a job interview, I suspect you once again take extraordinary measures to create positive first impressions. And what about a first date, or a school reunion, or any other event that is important to you? Such events are certainly important, and you should try to make positive impressions. But why wouldn’t you do the same thing when it comes to one of the most important ongoing events of your life – events that affect your career?

Maybe it will not matter. We all know plenty of people who have done quite well with a messy office. However, if your career – like the bankers – heavily depends on creating positive associations with your prospects, clients, coworkers and others, you might want to think about maintaining your office or workspace in a way that sends a message that your internal state of mind is calm, collected, centered, grounded, orderly and focused. Perhaps a clean desk is a sign of a sane mind.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

Open post

Sifting – Chapter 17: Human Behavior and Strokes

This posting is part of a series on my book Sifting. If you have not read the previous postings, please visit the menu above (click on Sifting) for a chronological listing of any previous chapters. Thanks!  


Chapter 17: Human Behavior and Strokes

Bob: Tell me about strokes, Sift.

Sift: Think of a stroke as a unit of human recognition. The desire for recognition is another of the strongly encoded and powerful human hungers that it is very beneficial to understand. For example, imagine passing someone in a hallway, saying hello and nodding to him or her, and then they do the same to you. That would be considered a two-stroke transaction. You stroked them; they stroked you in return. You both feel duly recognized. Now imagine the same thing, only the other person totally ignores you. They know you are passing. They heard your greeting. They saw your nod. But they did not return the stroke. They just walk by you without returning your greeting. How would you feel?

Bob: Not good!

Sift: If you use your imagination and tap into how the lack of recognition would make you feel in this very simple example, you can begin to understand the power and implications of strokes going back and forth between people. People hunger for food to help maintain their physical health. People hunger for strokes to help maintain their mental health.

Bob: That makes sense to me.

Sift: Now, let’s talk about different ways to categorize or think about strokes. First, strokes can be categorized as either positive or negative. It is very simple. Positive strokes create positive feelings, and negative strokes create negative feelings. This applies, of course, to reasonably well-adjusted people without serious psychological disorders. Remember, getting strokes is a way of achieving some measure of recognition and attention. In general, people seek positive strokes. However, in the absence of positive strokes, people also seek negative strokes to satisfy their hunger for recognition and attention. They may act in a way that provokes you to get frustrated or angry and respond with negative strokes.

Bob: Ha, I totally get that. If you have raised children, especially teenagers, you know all about negative strokes. They push your hot buttons to get your attention.

Sift: That is a good example, Bob. The same thing also applies to employees in a business organization, spouses, friends, and other important relationships in your life. The fact that people will often seek negative strokes in the absence of positive strokes explains a lot of unusual behavior.

Bob: What is the other way to categorize strokes?

Sift: You can also think of strokes as unconditional or conditional. As is implied, unconditional strokes are freely given with no return expectation of any kind. You give someone a stroke because you just want to do so. However, conditional strokes are given with some form of return expectation. You give someone a stroke, but you expect a stroke or something else in return. A condition is attached to the stroke. Does that make sense to you, Bob?

Bob: Yes.

Sift: Now, in order to better understand how strokes influence behavior, we need to break conditional strokes down into three categories.

Bob: Okay, what are they?

Sift: The three categories are performance-oriented conditional strokes, accommodation-oriented conditional strokes, and conformance-oriented conditional strokes. Each of these stroke patterns influences behavior in different ways. Let’s talk about each one separately.

Bob: Okay.

Sift: In the case of performance-oriented conditional strokes, a stroke is given and some sort of specific performance is expected in return, or you get strokes only after you meet the performance expectations of the stroke-giver. Parenting offers some of the best examples of how the stroke patterns work. Bob, can you think of how parents might use performance-oriented conditional strokes with their children?

Bob: Sure, you give your children strokes when they meet your expectations in terms of grades, athletic achievement, playing a musical instrument, or things like that.

Sift: Exactly, those are great examples.

Bob: What’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t parents encourage their children to excel?

Sift: There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Problems arise when this is the overwhelmingly predominant kind of strokes a child receives. Although not necessarily explicitly stated, the message the child receives is: I love you or value you more when you perform to my standards. Because this form of recognition is so externally oriented, it has the potential to…

Bob: Oh, I get it. It can cause someone to develop an unhealthy external locus of control, can’t it? That’s what you were talking about earlier. That’s why you brought all this up.

Sift: Exactly. By the way, it is not a matter of the child growing up to be highly successful in terms of the way society typically judges success. Some of the highest achievers in our society – doctors, attorneys, politicians, military leaders, and entrepreneurs – grew up on a steady diet of performance-oriented conditional strokes. It is a matter of maintaining an internal locus of control, contentment, happiness, fulfillment, well-being, and overall satisfaction with life. High achievement and living an engaging, fulfilling life do not have to be mutually exclusive. It is, however, very difficult to balance these two desires if you are still operating under the strong influence of performance-oriented conditional strokes.

Bob: Wow, I get it. You are still trying too hard to please your parents, aren’t you?

Sift: Yes, your parents, any other influential people from your past, or people in your current life who trigger thoughts and feelings of those past influencers. This is all a matter of balance. As I mentioned earlier, it is fine to allow yourself to be influenced by others; you just need to value your own opinion and desires as much as, or more than, you value the opinions of others.

Bob: And in some cases, you should totally ignore what others think you should do with your life, right?

Sift: Yes.

Bob: You mentioned two other patterns. What are they?

Sift: The second pattern, accommodation-oriented conditional strokes, is almost identical to the pattern we just discussed. There is one slight distinction.

Bob: What’s that?

Sift: With the first pattern, the person seeking the strokes knows the rules, so to speak, for getting strokes. They know the specific performance that is required. In your example, that might be grades, athletic achievement, or expertise on a musical instrument. With accommodation-oriented conditional strokes, the specific performance is unclear or unknown.

Bob: So what do they do to get strokes?

Sift: They experiment and try all kinds of things in hopes of getting some strokes. They, in effect, go first and often become the class clowns and embrace other forms of people-pleasing behavior, or behavior that is likely to attract attention.

Bob: That sounds like another formula for developing an external locus of control.

Sift: Yes, it is. Once again, it can lead to extraordinary accomplishment if channeled properly. Many prominent actors, comedians, and other performers grew up on a steady diet of accommodation-oriented conditional strokes. The pattern only produces problems when it becomes too predominant and begins to negatively impact overall happiness and well-being. People begin to try too hard to get strokes and lose their sense of autonomy and authenticity.

Bob: You end up with a lot of unhappy people. Everyone is pleased except the people-pleaser.

Sift: Right.

Bob: What is the other pattern?

Sift: The other pattern is conformance-oriented conditional strokes. In this pattern, a person knows exactly how to get strokes. They must diligently conform to the standards of the stroke-givers. It is not a matter of getting strokes with this pattern; it is more a matter of losing them or knowing you will not receive them if you do not conform.

Bob: Huh? Can you give me an example?

Sift: Sure, in the case of a young man, it might be a father’s desire that his son join the military. Perhaps the father tells his son, “I was in the Marines. Your grandfather was a Marine. His father was a Marine. And you want to play guitar and be a rock star?” In this case, the son is guaranteed strokes if he conforms to the so-called family tradition and joins the Marines. He loses strokes if he pursues his own path and chooses to be a musician. Of course, the tradition can be related to anything, not just a specific profession. Perhaps a young woman is told, “Your mother stayed at home and took care of her children, as did your grandmother and her mother. And you want to be a career woman and farm your children out to a day-care center?” In both cases, the person gets strokes for conforming to tradition and loses strokes if they choose not to conform. Among other things, as adults, they might have difficulty making decisions because decisions were typically made for them.

Bob: Another way people lose their sense of control over their lives, right? So what do you do as a parent? How do you balance all of this?

Sift: Balance is a very good choice of words. All people experience all of these stroke patterns. One of the patterns usually emerges as predominant. You serve your children best when the predominant pattern they experience is unconditional strokes. And this is also true with friends, family, coworkers, subordinates, and bosses. If you provide people with a steady diet of unconditional strokes, the sense that you value, respect, and care about them unconditionally, the conditional strokes are fine.

Bob: So I counter-balance all the conditional strokes with unconditional strokes? I separate their value as a human from their behavior and things like that? That sounds pretty philosophical-minded.

Sift: Yes, yes, and you are right.

Bob: Sift, I think I know my predominant stroke pattern. My parents were always on me about my grades. It was performance-oriented conditional strokes, wasn’t it?

Sift: Yes.

Bob: What do I need to do about that now?

Sift: Bob, the purpose of this discussion is mainly about awareness. It is helpful to be aware of certain things if you want to better understand yourself and others important to you. Our discussions about past influences are more about solving puzzles than solving problems. If it is helpful to understand things from your past, then you should explore them. However, most of your problem-solving ideas and strategies will be future-oriented.

Bob: What exactly do you mean by “future-oriented”?

Sift: For example, the best way to get rid of an old habit that is not serving you well is to form a new habit to replace, or override, the old habit. You don’t dwell on the old habit any more than you must to understand how to move forward. Then you mainly focus on the new habit. Therefore, your time is best spent focusing on what you are going to do next to create different and desired results in the future, rather than dwelling too much on the past.

Bob: So the main lesson in all of this stuff about strokes is to try and make people feel unconditionally accepted.

Sift: Yes, if people sense that you are doing that, it is much easier to deal with differences of opinion and even conflict.

Bob: This is a lot to think about. I need a break, if it is okay with you. I forgot what else you said we would talk about next. What was it?

Sift: Tapes, a closely related subject. It is something else that explains why it is so easy to develop an external locus of control. And remember, all of this is about obstacles to pursuing your true calling in life. Take as long as you need. Think of some of the people you know well. It is usually easy to guess their predominant stroke pattern and understand the implications of their pattern in terms of their behavior. Mostly, think about the implications of your predominant pattern. We’ll talk about tapes when you are ready.

Bob: Okay, Sift.


End Chapter 17

Author’s Notes:

Main takeaway: Make sure people important to you feel unconditionally accepted.  

  1. How would you explain strokes to another person?
  2. Can you describe the different categories of strokes (positive, negative, unconditional, conditional, performance-oriented conditional, accommodation-oriented conditional, conformance-oriented conditional) and how they might influence adult behavior?
  3. Why do you think it is beneficial to understand human strokes and stroke patterns?
  4. What was your predominant stroke pattern as a child? How has that pattern affected you as an adult?


 The entire book will eventually be posted on this blog. However, if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for a friend, you can find it at this link: Sifting

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