My “Starfish on the Beach” Moments

As many of you already know, I recently launched my Daily Gummy of Wisdom email program and it has been met with so much interest, encouragement and compelling conversations. I wanted to take this time today to highlight a few of the gummies that have really landed with people and the stories they have shared with me. This is exactly what I had hoped would come from the creation of my Daily Gummy of Wisdom. Together, we are all getting better at self awareness and “each other” awareness; we are finding new approaches to old, familiar problems; becoming more skillful in our own emotional regulation and in turn, we are supporting others with their own emotional health — especially children.

I launched the Daily Gummy email program to help those who were dialing back their social media consumption. The Gummy gets popped into your inbox at 6:45 a.m. each day. You can start your morning with this engaging food for thought and find that you just might tap into it for an interaction at home or work. Some are using the Daily Gummy as a mindful break mid-morning or mid-afternoon. A little pick me up and that “refresh” that music producer Rick Rubin says is so invaluable to keep us attentive and engaged with our daily life. Others find it a great way to wind down at day’s end. That’s the beauty of the Daily Gummy — you can use it when it best works for you. Our emotional health can benefit from a supplement morning, noon or night.

Think of the Daily Gummy that lands in your inbox as the physical health supplements you store in your bathroom or kitchen cabinet. It’s on the shelf, readily available, and you can take it when it best works for you. No need to wade through a barrage of social media content.

What has so pleasantly surprised me is how the Daily Gummy is being shared with others. Some of my subscribers have created their own expanded email list of family and friends — and they forward the day’s gummy with some thoughts of their own. A few like to print them out and discuss them with the family at dinner or over coffee with friends. Sometimes they get printed out, tucked in an envelope with a personal note and placed in a teen’s backpack or sent to a family member across the country. They are used to seal a yoga practice, as a prompt for writing classes, to open discussions in support groups, and even incorporated into a pastor’s Sunday sermons.

Sometimes I am the recipient of a Daily Gummy.

A subscriber will write to me and share how a certain gummy landed at just the right time to help them reflect on something that is weighing heavy on their heart. My friend, Diane Brandt, has often said that when we support others, the blessings go both ways and this is exactly how I feel when I hear the stories and learn more about what people are navigating. A mother reached out to me when one gummy was particularly helpful for her in supporting her 10 year old son and his emotional triggers. My photo really spoke to his heart; the image has become a touchstone for him.

When I was in my twenties, the starfish story really resonated with me; that image of a little boy walking on the beach tossing stranded, parched starfish back into the sea. An old man passed by him and questioned why he bothered. There was no way that he could possibly save them all. “Why does it matter?” he asked. The little boy responded, “It matters to this one.”

And that is exactly how I feel about my Daily Gummy of Wisdom. If just one person’s life is touched in a meaningful way by a photo and some insight, it matters. If, in turn, that person can reach out and support someone they love in a tender, compassionate and more skillful way, just imagine the impact it will — the ripple effect.

Not every Daily Gummy land at just the right time, but some will.

We are most definitely at the tipping point of remarkable breakthroughs for our emotional health. Quite a few of us are those proverbial stranded, dehydrating starfish on the beach. The more we know, the more we notice. This is how attending to our own emotional health not only helps us improve our quality of life, it raises our awareness of how we can support others in truly beneficial, impactful positive ways.

Here are a few of the Daily Gummies that have landed in recent weeks:

Asking “what the matter” limits our ability to gain real understanding of what another person is feeling — and it often ignites a strong desire in us to fix things right away.

Let’s be honest, how often do we utter “What’s the matter?” with a tone of voice that feels judgmental? Yes — a lot.

Think of asking “what matters to you?” as a much more skillful diagnostic tool. A way to probe a little deeper into discovery and be truly helpful in a meaningful way.

So often, we stay on the surface level of an issue, stating frustration or disappointment, but the real problem causing those emotions is tangled up in misunderstandings, miscommunication, differing opinions or scales of importance. Real problem solving is only possible when we drill down into core issues.

If you want to discover how powerful this diagnostic skill really is, try it for yourself. Next time you are feeling frustrated or annoyed – ask yourself “What matters to me?” Your honest answer will reveal a lot.

One of my close friends reached out to me about this Daily Gummy. She is very active in her community as a leader, a volunteer and a musician. Like me, she is a born helper. She confessed that she often rushes in to fix things, clean up a mess or solve a problem — and quite often without even asking out loud “what’s the matter.” She can see what’s the matter very clearly. (She just described me to a “T”). It dawned on her that quite often she was jumping in before she really understood what was really going on. She often found herself overcommitted, slightly resentful and puzzled why nothing was really changing.

My friend shared that re-arranging words and asking an important question differently, shifted everything. When she enters a situation now, she asks “What matters to you” and listens to learn. As a result, she is accomplishing a few things on her personal growth to do list. She is catching herself before she rescues others; she is becoming a good story steward and listening without judgment and pre-conceived ideas; she is able to set healthy boundaries for her time, energy and interests. And most importantly, those people she loves to help are feeling a deeper and more supported connection with her. Just look at how much positive emotional and relational change occurred by one dynamic question: “What matters most to you?”

Have you noticed how your mood changes throughout the day? It is truly astonishing how much our mood swings around and how little we pay attention to it. Why does it matter? Because our mood influences everything.

When we are in a good mood, we tap into our best natural resources. We are resilient, flexible, creative problem solvers. It’s like sporting a Teflon jacket — nothing negative sticks — not the traffic jam, the spilled milk or someone’s snarky comments. In fact, most events seem less like “problems” and more like “opportunities”.

But a bad mood — yikes! We trade the Teflon jacket for a magnetic catcher’s mitt. Our brain’s default negativity bias looks for — and finds — everything that’s going wrong. That same traffic jam was created just to make us late; the spilled milk is evidence we are doomed for a bad day; the snarky comment sets off a chain reaction critical self talk.

Mood swings can take us on a wild ride. And our mood impacts others. We rarely get the response and support we want when we are surly.

A new subscriber sent me an email with some adorable emojis to thank me for this image and the gummy which she is using in her conversations with her kids. She is helping them to see how a bad mood in one child can take the joy out of something her other child is having in the moment. Evidently they have had some hilarious discussions about being on the “mood swing”. She is so grateful for this image which really resonated for her young children; and how it gave them a way to openly express what they are feeling in the moment with both levity and honesty.

We are in a continuous flow of emotions throughout the day. Just like a whitewater rafting adventure, we never know what lies ahead in our emotional river.

As if it isn’t enough to navigate our own emotional flow, we are often in the same boat with others — each having their own unique experience. It’s a miracle that we can stay afloat!

That is why it’s so important to not “rock the boat” with unnecessary drama and out of control emotions. Every person’s experience is unique. Someone may be lamenting the adventure is coming to an end; and another relieved that it is over. One may be in awe of the expansive view; and another is reading a troubling text. One is tense, another is so relaxed.

The guide plays a key role. He is grounded, calm and has a deep rudder (i.e. skillful emotional navigation). Can you be that guide for others when emotions run high? Staying calm, being skillful with your own emotional flow and helping others with theirs — now that’s earning your emotional fitness badge.

This Daily Gummy reminded me of my life in my mid-40’s, when I was juggling a career change, two teenagers and a five year old, health issues and life in general. Bills to pay, meals to make, vacations to plan, holidays, boo-boos and the many overlapping needs of family members. I used to tell my friends that I was in the white water rapids of life without a paddle. I didn’t know much about emotional health at that time, so I would push through a lot of hard stuff without processing it. I made everyone else my priority firmly believing that if I took care of them, I too would be just fine. But I began to notice a pattern. I could push through for about three months and then I would be in a state of exhaustion that would land me in bed for a few days trying to recover from bronchitis or the flu. I’d recover and jump right back into the white water rapids, powering through and making up for that lost time by overcommitting. A few months later, I’d be tossed out of the raft into the level 5 white water rapids and I’d be sick again. My own version of rinse, repeat.

Besser van der Kolk tells us that the “body keeps the score” – and that is just one of the big lessons I learned the hard way. My body was trying to tell me that I could not stay afloat if I did not attend to myself. A big pivot for me was taking this to heart — both physically and emotionally. Busy parents can struggle a lot with self-care, emotional regulation and work-life balance.

The metaphor for me is that we cannot be skillful guides if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. We are not only better for our partners and children when we take care of our own needs, we are role modeling for our children and grandchildren the importance of physical, cognitive and emotional health for their own.

The white water rapids of life will be ever present. The change occurs when we become skillful life guides, with a bouyant flexible raft and a deep rudder.

I hope you have enjoyed discovering a few new things about my Daily Gummy of Wisdom and that you will sign up for the email program. Click this link to be added to the growing group of folks who are making their emotional fitness an integral part of their well being:


Emotional Fitness

I admit it — I stole the title of this blog post from Simon Sinek. He believes that we should change the nomenclature from “mental health” to “emotional fitness” and I couldn’t agree more.

We have been using the phrasing “mental health” mostly as a catch-all for anything and everything that offers a shoulder shrug explanation for someone’s problems or society’s crisis. There is such a debilitating stigma that is associated with the label of mental health that it less uncomfortable to just ignore it. It reminds me a lot of the stigma we had around breast cancer just a few decades ago. There is a correlation from what we have learned about breast cancer and what we are now learning about mental health. Early detection and preventative measures are game-changers.

The solid truth is our mental health is of integral importance to our quality of life and to our physical and cognitive health. It is time we normalize that. It just might start with a more acceptable and accurate descriptor — emotional fitness.

As we are coming to realize, many of us struggle more than we should with attending to our emotional fitness because we were not taught how to integrate our emotions with our developing brains when we were kids. As a result, we can have a very confusing and unskillful relationship with our emotions.

And it is not only our own emotions that we wrestle with, it is the emotions of all those we are in relationship with as well — most significantly our family members.

Here are some compelling reasons why we need to push emotional fitness to the top of our list for achieving our best overall health:

  • Poor emotional health contributes to inflammation, increased anxiety, depression, suppressed immune systems, cardiac and cognitive problems (just to name a few)
  • Poor emotional health negatively impacts our quality of sleep; sleep is one of the most beneficial factors for our overall brain and body health.
  • Poor emotional regulation negatively impacts the quality and deep connectedness of our most treasured personal relationships (i.e. secure attachment styles)
  • Poor emotional health taxes our energy, our ability to be clear-headed, and limits our capacity for resilience, problem solving and empathy
  • Poor emotional health is a carrier — we simply perpetuate dysfunctional patterns of behavior and hand them down to our children.

In other words, emotional fitness is the giant umbrella that arches over every other aspect of our quality of life. We can be incredibly physically fit and be emotionally miserable. We can be sleepwalking through our present moments causing collateral damage left and right and be oblivious to the harm we are causing to others with our unchecked emotional reactions. We may be prone to frequent colds and viruses, have chronic asthma, insomnia, indigestion, aching backs and migraines. We can numb our pain and simultaneously numb our joy.

The reality of how our emotional fitness impacts our daily lives and our families is undeniable. Take stock of how each member in your family handles their daily mood swings. If you created a graph and plotted each family member’s emotional highs and lows throughout the day, what correlations might you find?

There is no standardized way that we human beings respond to our emotions and experiences. Even shared family experiences will land slightly differently on each member. We each respond in a variety of different ways to very similar circumstances — and here’s the plot twist: how we respond changes in direct correlation to our emotional tides.

Our emotional states play a huge role in how we respond to unfolding events in our daily lives. One day we are resilient and can let things roll off our back; the next we are unmoored and have no bandwidth to handle even minor skirmishes.

Lots of things contribute to our mood swings. Some of those are external factors. Many are our own internal factors such as coping strategies, flexibility or rigidity, self compassion or harsh inner criticism, emotional triggers and personal preferences.

What is often invisible to us is that we are all contributing in some way to the emotional well being and level of emotional fitness for those we love the most. Yes, we know that our lives are inextricably connected but we are often not consciously aware that our nervous systems and emotions are equally intertwined. We get plugged in to each other’s emotional energies and it happens incredibly fast.

Just witness for yourself how the energy shifts and emotions rise or fall when one member of your family loses their cool, or breaks into spontaneous laughter, or sulks out of the room.

Have you ever held your breath as an emotionally intense situation unfolds and your mind immediately conjures up what the most probable reaction will be? You brace yourself for the worst, your body tenses and you get ready for the impact of strong harsh emotions. And then the unexpected happens, there is no anger — there is laughter. It takes more than a hot minute for your body to register this phenomenon and slowly you begin to feel the tension leaving your body. Now think about all those emotional gyrations you just experienced in under a minute. Not to mention the chemicals and hormones that were released and are still being processed in your body and brain.

In the above scenario, when you found yourself bracing for a bad outcome fueled by anger, that is what “conditioning” feels like in your body and brain. If you had a lot of those types of anger fueled, high intensity emotional events in your childhood, you are “conditioned” to prepare for the worst. Your body and brain braces for a negative emotional impact.

Think about how many times that conditioning is reinforced over our lifetime. Not only are we well-practiced in a reflective response intended to protect us, we get taught at the very same time that it is normal for adults to react this way. And the next thing we know, we are in fact mimicking that reactive behavioral pattern in our marriages and in our parenting. The childhood conditioned response and the adult unchecked behavioral pattern go hand in hand.

When we lack the ability to ground ourselves before we respond to present day situations, we only reinforce bad emotional fitness habits. Those unhealthy emotional fitness habits are costly; to ourselves and to our family members.

We have a lot of devices these days that help us monitor our physical activity, our heart rates, how much and the quality of our sleep, keep track of our caloric intake and remind us to hydrate or move our bodies. But we have not devoted as much time, awareness and discipline to our emotional fitness.

Dr. Peter Attia often uses the image of a pyramid with a broad, solid base at the bottom to stress the importance of a core foundation for our physical strength. The top of that pyramid is the peak, where we can really distinguish ourselves often in short bursts or for competitive events. Perhaps we can use that same pyramid image to help us develop healthy emotional fitness.

That broad solid base at the bottom of our emotional fitness pyramid constitutes how we ground ourselves, in the present moment, in alignment with our core values, our family values and our goals for our emotional health. It only takes one or two deep cleansing breaths to anchor ourselves there in that foundation. It is that pause between stimulus and response that serves as a potent reminder of the goal for our emotional fitness. Choose responsibly.

The more we commit to building a strong emotional fitness base, the easier it will become to implement better responses on a daily basis. We will smooth out a lot of emotional bumps and turbulence for ourselves and our family members. An added bonus is that we will be much more emotionally skillful in those “peak” moments too — those times when something really adverse occurs and we are emotionally challenged in a very big way. We can become the rock that our family needs in those highly intense emotional adversities.

Just like any physical fitness regimen we have, it is the practice that brings results. We have to stay committed to attending to our emotional fitness. Yes, we do skip the gym from time to time and we do overindulge in comfort food occasionally.

We are going to slip up and we will show up with some unhealthy emotional fitness — that’s life. Let’s turn to Dr. Peter Attia once more for some advice on damage control. Dr. Attia has become one of the biggest advocates for emotional fitness and he stresses the importance of “repair”. Let’s be honest, we know when we haven’t shown up as our best selves; we know when we have lashed out too harshly or lost our patience without forewarning. Owning it and apologizing swiftly is the key. That’s emotional damage control.

Dr. Dan Siegel, author of Whole Brain Parenting, reinforces the value embedded in those times of emotional “rupture and repair”. It becomes the superglue of trust and respect for our most valued relationships. It is how we demonstrate a true commitment to our emotional fitness to ourselves and our family members.

The Wrap Up:

There is no doubt that our emotional health and emotional fitness is fast becoming a mainstream subject. One that is long overdue. We are witnessing a coalescence of neuroscience, psychology, epigenetics, modern medicine; along with mindfulness, meditation, self compassion, gratitude and self-awareness.

The tap roots for so many of the mental and emotional health issues we face today are integration and connection. We need to integrate our emotions with our amazing, complex brains and we need to attend to our hard-wired basic need for human connection.

For far too long, we humans have been operating without that emotional integration. As a result, we became disconnected from some of the most integral parts of our core operating system. However our emotions did not relegate themselves to the back seat no matter how much we tried to ignore or override them.

Our emotions hopped right into the driver’s seat and took us off on a wild ride, sometimes going full throttle and other times slamming on the brakes. Our emotions can barely see through the windshield and occasionally love the chaotic slapping of the wipers on high. They play tug of war with the steering wheel, beep the horn wildly and push all the knobs and buttons on the console.

How is that working out?

The answer is — not well. Our emotions have a vital role to play but they are not skillful drivers and seasoned life navigators. They are invaluable warning lights and the occasional alarm system.

We can take back control, put ourselves in the driver’s seat for our quality of life and the direction and places we wish to go. Rather than ignore, dismiss and override our emotional signals, we can pay attention and address important operating issues with preventive maintenance and early detection.

Let’s turn this whole well being concept on its head. Let’s start with our emotional health and ramp up our emotional fitness.


THE IMPACT OF STRESS ON PHYSICAL & EMOTIONAL HEALTH with ROBERT SAPOLSKY, Ph.D – This conversation is rich with insights from birth to old age…a very worthwhile listen


Pop a Daily Gummy of Wisdom Supplement

I am so excited to announce the launch of a brand new initiative to support our emotional health and overall wellbeing. My Daily Gummy of Wisdom is intended to be an awareness supplement to help us all maintain our emotional fitness.

We take vitamins and supplements to support our physical and cognitive health, so why not have a little daily boost for our emotional health and overall quality of life?

If you are a regular follower of my blog, Inspired New Horizons, then you might really enjoy getting these small, and potent, daily supplements to help you stay in shape as you develop better life skills and emotional regulation.

My Daily Gummies of Wisdom incorporate my love of photography with my passion for sharing information about personal growth, awareness, parenting, life skills and emotional health.

Here’s a sample of today’s Daily Gummy of Wisdom:

Daily Gummy of Wisdom – Monday, May 8, 2023

Create a little buffer zone between you and your different roles and varied experiences throughout your day. It is a simple little practice that can make a big difference.

Think about all the hats your wear in a day – parent, spouse, child, co-worker, friend, customer, neighbor — the list is endless.

We often just jump from one role to the other without a reset or refresh. When this happens, we drag some residue from each role or experience into the new one. That residue might be sticky — like a strong unsettling emotion that adheres to everyone and everything we touch.

We wouldn’t let our child run around the house, into the car or out into the neighborhood with sticky hands. We’d take a minute or two to wash those little hands that are capable of leaving gooey fingerprints all over the place.

This is what a brief buffer zone can do for you — it’s a little hand washing for your emotional and experiential residue as you transition from one role to another, or from one task to a new one.

It doesn’t take much time to do this — and the benefits are enormous.

Before you leave the house in the morning, as you close the front door, take a deep breath and let go. You’ve done as much as you could and how you are off to work, taking the kids to school, or heading to an appointment. Let go and look forward. Howe do you want to enter the new experience and greet those you meet there?

When you return home, as you close your car door and make your way to the front door, repeat that process. Let go. You’ve done all you could out and about today. You are home now. You may have pressing things you want to share with your family, but pause before barging in. You have no idea how their own day unfolded. Mentally wash your sticky residue so can listen with good intention and focus when you are reunited with your family.

If your emotional or experiential residue hacks some of your attention, you. may miss the smallest yet most rewarding moments of your day. That absolute delight on your child’s face to see you, that “there’s no place like home” feeling that washes over you.

When we give ourselves a little transition “hand washing”, we are more attentive and less reactionary. We treat ourselves to being more fully present and organically take in more of the good we often miss in life.

HERE’S THE CALL TO ACTION: Sign up below to get my Daily Gummy of Wisdom popped right into your inbox each morning. It only takes a minute or two to read….is great food for thought and has a lovely slow release factor all day long. The Daily Gummy will increase your awareness, help you stay in alignment with your core values and foster all those better life skills you are honing.

We read a lot of worthless brain junk food in our social media feeds throughout the day. Why not trade a little of that mindless scrolling for one high quality daily supplement for your emotional fitness and overall wellbeing?

Sign up right here: Click this link:

We Are the Change Agents

I’d like to give an enormous hat tip to Dr. Peter Attia for championing the integral role our emotional health plays in the overall quality and length of our life. He is shining a beacon on the many ways that our emotional health impacts our physical and cognitive health, our most treasured personal relationships and maybe most importantly — how well we actually know ourselves.

From the outside looking in, Dr. Peter Attia certainly seems to be a shining example of living the good life. He has a hugely successful career in medicine, is a renowned authority on the subject of longevity and good health, is in great physical and cognitive shape, and is married with three children. He practices what he preaches. In other words, he has checked all the boxes for a successful, happy life.

Yet in recent years, while writing his newest book, Outlive, Dr. Peter Attia became acutely aware that there was a gaping hole in the complete picture of longevity and quality of life — emotional health. What good is checking all the boxes that outwardly give the impression of success and happiness, if in fact inwardly we are miserable?

Yes, we can be physically and cognitively very healthy; we can be proactive with preventive measures and early detection to ensure we live longer — and possibly longer without illness, disease or cognitive decline. But if we are unhappy, discontent and lack emotional regulation, we will continue to be miserable no matter how physically fit or mentally sharp we are; no matter how many measurements of success we seem to have achieved.

This is a true fact for so many of us. We have a very big blind spot about how our emotional health has taken its toll on us and our families, all while we have been actively checking off the boxes.

We can be so unaware of the impacts of our emotional health that we will unconsciously sabotage ourselves over and over again. Dr. Peter Attia uses the metaphor of Formula One racing to help us grasp the magnitude of ignoring our emotional health:

Just a few short decades ago, Formula One racing had a very high rate of death among its drivers because of the risk factors. The cars were engineered for performance not safety. Today that risk factor for death and serious injury has been dramatically reduced. What changed? The cars are now engineered for safety first and performance second. Minimize risk.

As Dr. Attia points out, we use risk factors all the time to help us minimize the risk to our physical and cognitive health. We intervene early to prevent infection, illness and disease. Yet we have been ignoring emotional health all the while.

No one asks the questions — “What is your risk for poor emotional health and what are we doing about it?

It has become very clear over the past decade or two that it behooves us all to reflect on how the old parenting models impacted us — and especially our emotional health. The risk factors for our emotional health are imbedded in those old parenting paradigms that disconnected us from understanding and effectively utilizing our emotions. Our emotions are an integral part of our brain/body connection and we are long overdue for a major upgrade to our human operating system.

Just look at all the advances that we have made in modern medicine to fight genetically inheritable diseases. We have been blind to the generational inheritances of poor emotional health. And now our eyes have been opened – we have a brand new pathway to addressing the quality of our emotional health.

Not only are we able to intervene early for our own emotional health, we can begin to ensure that our children get a head start on a lifetime of good emotional health.

We are the change agents; the ones that will break the cycles of dysfunction that got passed unconsciously from one generation to the next. We will advance human evolution by proactively integrating our emotions with our complex, developing brains.

Dr. Peter Attia shared with Dr. Andrew Huberman in a recent podcast that for most of his life he got really good at drywall repair – because he was dealing with an unconscious inner rage from trauma in his childhood – and that anger often had him punching a hole in the wall. In fact, it was that same anger and strong urge to punch a guy in a parking lot that made him realize he had to get help for his emotional disregulation. He realized in that moment that he could have lost everything he had spent his whole life building — his reputation, his career, his marriage and family – because of unchecked emotional health.

I just have to say that Dr. Attia still packs a punch — a positive and very healthy one. He punched a big hole in our blindspots when it comes to emotional health and the integral role it plays in the overall quality of our life.

As I was reading Dr. Attia’s book, Outlive, I was delightfully surprised to discover that he had turned to two of my favorite resources to help him in his search and recovery process for emotional health — Esther Perel and Terry Real. I have long followed their work, participated in their seminars and read their books. It was Terry Real’s relationship summit in May, 2022 that prompted my blog post “Whatever He Has, I Want It” featuring Hugh Jackman’s journey with personal growth and emotional awareness.

Little holes have been being poked into our need to focus on emotional health from a diverse array of sources for several decades. Neuroscience has been paving the way as we make tremendous breakthroughs in understanding how our brains, bodies and emotions need integration in order to function optimally.

Changes are happening at a very fast pace now. Old methods once used for parenting, for treating trauma and mental health issues are being tossed out and replaced with protocols that focus on integration of emotions. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk even emphasizes that it is not necessary to go back and revisit all the re-traumatizing details of a childhood event. Instead, the focus and therapy becomes on how a person is feeling today, what they are experiencing in the present moment – and integrating that into more manageable responses to current experiences.

Dr. Attia explains that we can reframe this work as an “invitation to view our own young experiences through the eyes of our own child”. I wouldn’t be surprised if he learned that from Terry Real, who often says that the best motivation in the world for personal change is our children. Terry says that we might not change for our partners or ourselves, but we rarely resist change if we know it will help our kids.

Our emotional health is rooted in our childhoods. There is no doubt about that. It is crystal clear that we will be the change agents for breaking generational patterns of poor coping skills, unhealthy attachment styles, maladaptive patterns of behavior and lifelong poor emotional health.

Dr. Attia would encourage each of us to view our emotional health and its risk factors the same way that we view our physical and cognitive health. Dig into our family history, intervene early, develop healthier approaches and incorporate a daily maintenance program to support an ongoing healthy trajectory.


Develop a list of podcasts that become your “go to” playlist to support your emotional health. Here are a few of my favorites:

Gummies of Wisdom – Cultivating Awareness

Now that we are beginning to fully understand just how significant our emotional health is to our overall quality of life, we need to develop a game plan to attend to it, just as we do for our physical health, nutrition and sleep. Part of that plan should include daily maintenance for our emotional health. That is why I created my “daily gummies” of wisdom — a supplement to boost awareness for our emotional health.

My daily gummies of wisdom are simple little reminders to help keep our emotional health on our radar screen. In this post today, I’m sharing a few of those gummies that turn the spotlight on cultivating greater awareness throughout our busy days. We can really level up our emotional health game plan through both self-awareness and “other” awareness.

Before we dive in, here’s a little food for thought. Have you noticed how much easier it might be for you to “show up” as calm, thoughtful and clear-headed when you are at work or with friends than when you are at home with your loved ones? What is it that keeps us from having a meltdown, losing it or shutting down when we are in those settings? Ironic isn’t it that often our “best behavior” is doled out to those who have a lower priority in our relationship schema.

Are you fascinated by the fact that we actually do have this remarkable capacity to “show up” or “meet the moment” with a boatload of agency, but we are often unaware of it? Our unconscious auto-pilot rarely lets us screw up where our integrity and character matter at work or with peers. But somehow it fails us when we are with those we love the most.

Here’s the giant clue: It is all about awareness. At work, with friends, in public – we have a keen awareness of how we want to be presenting ourselves. We are instinctively anchored in our values and personal integrity. Simply put, we are anchored in our self-awareness.

But when we are at home, we want to get comfortable, to relax, to be our true selves and that means dialing down the bright spotlight of self awareness. We need a break from being on our best behavior – and we often rely on the foundation of our most meaningful relationships to just accept us as we are; unfiltered.

I will let you in on a game-changing secret. When we can learn to pivot and bring all that public persona awareness into our personal relationships, we will be leveling up our emotional health in dynamic and transformational ways. And yes, we can still relax at home, be at ease and be our true selves. In fact, our most valued relationships will become our treasured safe haven and major recharging station for life.

It is the “unfiltered” lack of awareness of both ourselves and our family members that is the problem. Change your filter, change your life. Keep your filters clean and working optimally.

As you read through my “gummies of wisdom” today, keep that distinction as the backdrop. Think about how you “show up” for a friend and how you “show up” for a spouse or child in a similar situation (or even how you show up for yourself).

My first gummy really sets the stage for amping up our awareness:

We human beings are truly marvelous creatures — we have a plethora of senses to help us navigate our lives — not just the 5 senses with which we are most familiar, but actually 8 senses!

We are all quite familiar with our first 5 senses: hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch.

Our 6th sense is is our interoception, the perception of our interior. Interoception is all the signals we get from our body — from our muscles, bones, hearts, lungs and intestines. These signals feel like a racing heart, tense shoulder muscles or a clenched jaw, butterflies in our stomach, or labored breathing.

(Think about how your body feels when you are having a major disagreement with your partner, or when your child is having a temper tantrum.)

Our 7th sense is our ability to be aware of mental activity — emotions, thoughts and memories. The real superpower we possess is not only the ability to be aware of our emotions, thoughts and memories but to choose how to engage with them.

We become much more discerning about how our mental activities are “informing” our behaviors and responses to life when we hone our “awareness” of emotions, thoughts and memories.

Our 8th sense is our “relational” sense – our sense of connection with people, pets, nature, the planet. This is the big distinctive pivot. This 8th sense is on high alert when we are at work, with friends, in public. But for some peculiar reason, it goes offline when we are with our loved ones.

Here is a personal story to shed more light on this very subject: My husband Skip and I were playing golf. He was a scratch golfer and loved the game, but on this particular Sunday afternoon, he was struggling. And the more he let those disgruntled feelings show, the worse he was playing and the less fun we were having together. I asked him if he would be behaving this way if he were playing with his work colleague, Charlene Davidson. He gave me a puzzled look and responded, “No, I would be on my best behavior.” I smiled at him and said “I deserve your best behavior.” You guessed it — it was an “aha” moment; and that pivot turned our day around in the most pleasant way.

This gummy about our 8 senses is a super supplement. It is that 8th sense of connection to others that jumpstarts a major awareness shift. Think about this the next time you are at home with your loved ones. Think about how hard you work to support, provide and care for them and about the sacrifices you are willing to make for them. Now enter that conversation, that disagreement or interaction from the portal of what that relationship truly means to you.

If we break apart the word “responsibility” it completes shifts our relationship with it. In the context that we often use the word “responsibility”, it can feel like a burden….something we must do (i.e. take responsibility). However, if we break the word apart and recognize its two distinct components, we can see clearly that our “ability” to chose our “responses” is rooted in our personal agency. We are not burdened, we are empowered.

Knee jerk reactions often leave us with consequences that aren’t reflective of our best selves. That’s why we feel guilt, shame or embarrassment. Knee jerk reactions set off a chain reaction that often involves our own personal discomfort, another’s hurt or discomfort, and accountability for rupture and repair. That’s a lot of time and energy that could have been used more productively.

“Response Ability” grounds us in our integrity and reminds us that we do have agency — that super power to choose. We not only choose to meet the moment calmly and more skillfully, we use our natural resources of time and energy wisely.

This gummy of wisdom fits like a puzzle piece with the first gummy about our 8 senses. Once again, it is another pivot that brings better results quickly. How we respond to a situation (rather than auto-pilot reacting) smooths out a lot of relationship bumps. Think of it like this — if we are paying attention to our driving when we are in heavy traffic, we ease on the brakes. If we are not paying attention, we may have to slam on the brakes suddenly. Our “response” ability is just like that.

With this gummy of wisdom, we are back to the “filters” we use. Think about filters like sunglasses or reading glasses. We slip them on when we want to protect our eyes or see something more clearly. It’s the same concept for the unconscious filters we are using for each situation and interaction we have.

So often, we are not consciously aware of all the filters we are using to take in a current situation. Our filters have been with us since childhood and they act just like water filtration systems to catch our 8 senses and our attention. If we haven’t cleaned those filters for decades, the old debris and outdated information that’s been accumulated traps the opportunity to take in new data.

Beginner”s mind is a concept often used in meditation, reminding us to be “unfiltered” and let all our thoughts flow — not to cling to them, or allow them to muddy up the waters of the present moment.

Beginner’s mind is also a tool we can use to hack our clogged filtering systems and begin to be with a current experience with a fresh clean slate.

There’s a bonus packed into this skill as well. The more we practice “beginner’s mind”, the cleaner and more current our unconscious filtering system becomes. Out with the old and in with the new!

Get into the habit of changing your inner filter and discover the magical difference it makes.

This last gummy is an invitation to spend a day discovering where you attention goes while you are busy engaged in life. We’ve all had that experience of pouring a cup of steaming hot coffee, and eagerly anticipating enjoying it fully. A few minutes later, our mug is empty and we don’t even remember drinking that coffee. Or we are driving to the grocery store and realize that our mind has wandered elsewhere and is not paying attention to the upcoming traffic jam.

The truth is that our attention is constantly activating our brain. We are “feeding” our brain all kinds of things throughout the day — and some of it is like junk food or junk mail. Do you want to be more discerning about what you activate in your brain?

If you answered yes, then start paying attention to your attention. In fact, play with your attention — it’s about the same experience as playing with a busy toddler who is always on the move. You wouldn’t let a toddler on their own for a day, but we often do just tat with our attention.

We let our attention run off and meander into all kinds of places while we are simultaneously driving a car, making dinner, playing a game with our kids, or talking on the phone with a friend. Start paying attention to your meandering attention. See if you can bring it back to the present moment. See if you can keep it focused for even a few minutes on the task at hand.

We can become very skillful at using our attention intentionally. This is so good for our brains and extremely helpful for our emotional health. Dr. Peter Attia, author of the longevity book, Outlive, reinforces the fact that we are most content and satisfied with our life – in the present moment.

Where attention goes, neural firing flows and neural connection grows. We are actually activating important parts of our brain with our focused attention. If we want to cultivate a growth mindset and keep our brains upgraded as often as we do our phones, we need to pay attention to how we are using and directing our attention.

By the way, there is a bonus feature to paying attention in our present moments. We become much more skillful at tapping in to all 8 of our senses. The salient qualities of our remarkable brains tend to come online and stay online in an integrated fashion.

The more we cultivate greater self-awareness, the more we are likely to equally grow our “other awareness”. This helps us tap into another awesome ability we have — the ability to “attune” to others. Think of this skill set like putting on your oxygen mask first. You attend to yourself and get grounded, calm and clear-minded. (A few deep breaths will fast track this practice). Then you attune to what your child or partner may be experiencing. We co-regulate each other, so if you can meet the moment with some empathy and understanding, chances are you will be offering what you instinctively know would feel helpful to you in a similar situation.


Be sure to follow me on Instagram @inspirednewhorizons to get your daily gummy of wisdom. I distill lots of research into short supplements for your personal growth

Emotional Health

Imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that emotional health is fast becoming a foundational pillar for the length and quality of our lifespan. A subject that was once relegated to the self-help and personal growth space is now being integrated into a healthspan revolution.

Healthspan is not just living longer, it is about living longer without chronic and major health issues, living with vitality, strong cognitive and physical abilities and strong emotional health.

Dr. Peter Attia, host of the very popular podcast, The Drive, and author of “Outlive: The Science & Art of Longevity” emphasizes that while cognitive and physical health are germane to the quality and length of our lives, our emotional health may potentially be the most important component of all. “After all, what good is a long life if you are miserable?”

“Emotional health encompasses happiness, emotional resilience and distress tolerance, mindfulness, stillness and fulfillment, among others. It touches on our sense of individual purpose, as well as our ability to engage in meaningful and supportive relationships with those we love.” — From the Mental & Emotional Health Archives of Dr. Peter Attia (

While listening to Dr. Attia discuss his new book Outlive with Dr. Andrew Huberman, I found myself completely captivated by the last 48 minutes of that podcast conversation. What he shared so openly about his own emotional health journey fit like a puzzle piece into my recent series of blog posts about the negative impacts of old parenting models. His personal story is so relatable on many levels – and proof positive that it behooves us all to take our emotional health as seriously as our exercise, nutrition and sleep.

From the outside, most of us would just assume that Dr. Peter Attia was living a happy, successful life. A Stanford/John Hopkins/NIH trained physical, he has built a thriving medical career focusing on the applied science of longevity. He has won prestigious awards, was the first person to make the round trip swim from Maui and Lanai, and has a huge following for his extremely popular podcast about longevity. He’s married and has three kids. Sure seems like he checked all the boxes for a good life.

Yet he shared both in his book and in the Huberman Lab podcast that he was driven to be a perfectionist and his inner critic was harsh and unrelenting. He also admits to becoming very skilled at drywall because he was prone to break a lot of things — both when he was younger and into his adult life. It took not one, but two, rock bottom moments in recent years to motivate him to get serious about his emotional health. The root causes of his core emotional issues were in his childhood — unprocessed trauma, lack of emotional language and lack of skillful emotional regulation.

Boom – there it is — the inescapable fact that what has happened in our childhood gets carried right into adulthood — and even when we work hard to build a successful life and check all the boxes, we still can get tripped up by our own unconscious obstacles.

In my recent blog post “Learning What We Need to Teach”, I shared that Dr. Dan Siegel recommends going back and examining our childhood so we can understand our relationship attachment style, how our parents influenced our development and how we made sense of what happened to us.

While Dr. Siegel readily acknowledges that most people are very resistant to revisiting a painful or dysfunctional childhood, it is a clear path to addressing the behavioral patterns and limiting beliefs that become our unconscious obstacles. Dr. Attia would likely frame this examination of our childhood an early intervention for our adult emotional health — and that framework comes from his personal experience and his scientific approach to longevity.

It was just a few years ago, as that second “rock bottom” was hitting hard for him, that Dr. Peter Attia’s good friend pulled him aside and told him he really needed this intervention. His good friend knew firsthand why unpacking family dysfunction and childhood trauma is of paramount importance for a good life. He is none other than Dr. Paul Conti, also a Stanford/Harvard grad, who is a psychiatrist and author of Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic; How Trauma Works and How We Can Heal From It.

The synchronicity of Dr. Paul Conti being a psychiatrist whose focus is on healing trauma and Dr. Attia being a medical doctor whose focus is on longevity and quality of life is not lost me. I have been witnessing the emerging integration of multiple disciplines and modalities for several years. So many significant neuroscience breakthroughs are deeply connected to the mind/body connection; the very integration of emotions with the lower and upper parts of developing brains for which Dr. Dan Siegel advocates the whole brain parenting approach.

We got emotions wrong for generations. Full stop. Emotions are the very first part of our human programming that needs to be installed. Emotions are how we learn to care for, and meet the needs of a precious baby. It is second nature for us to respond appropriately to an infant’s cries or their engaging laughter. How could we have been so blind to the obvious? The old parenting models actually had us overriding the most integral software component of being a human being. This is precisely why we have so many interpersonal difficulties, why our inner critic is so debilitating, and why we perpetuate problems from one generation to the next.

Peter Attia took Paul Conti’s sage advice. He did a deep-dive into this healing work in a 3 week program in Arizona, where he discovered a lot about his childhood that provided answers and insights. He learned tools and practices to help him pivot to the healthy end of his emotional health spectrum.

I was not at all surprised to learn that Dr. Attia was able to go back and look at blocked memories from childhood through the lens of an adult, who is now a parent himself, and discover deep compassion for a little boy who had no way of processing what he was experiencing; a little boy who strived to be “perfect” in order to feel safe and loved. His inner critic who was so hard on him when he missed the mark of “perfection” was parental message playing over and over….for 5 decades of his life.

This transformational experience was an enormous pivot for Dr. Peter Attia. He came to fully comprehend that all the work he was doing to help people live longer, without disease, chronic or major health issues, to ensure they stayed physically active and cognitively healthy was missing one compelling component — emotional health. In his mind, there could be nothing worse than living a very long life and being miserable, discontent and emotionally disregulated throughout it all.

As I listened to Dr. Attia convey all of this to his longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Andrew Huberman, I thought about a very familiar story that really brings this message home — Scrooge in the Christmas Carol. Past, present, future. See how our past influences our present….and where our present blindspots predict our future. We have instinctively known this for generations.

As he was going through what he calls his “rehab and recovery”, Dr. Attia was also deeply entrenched in writing his book, Outlive. There was no way he could not include his profound discovery about emotional health and it’s direct impacts on the quality of our lives — and although his editors and publisher thought it belonged in a separate book, he strongly disagreed. Integration of emotional health was essential to the pillars of longevity and quality of life.

This is so profoundly important, I am going to share it again:

Integration of emotional health is essential for our longevity, physical and cognitive health and the overall quality of our life.

Dr. Attia likes to create a dashboard for his patients as part of his comprehensive approach to mitigating health problems in the future. Not only does he seek to improve the length of their lifespan, he also wants to increase the length of their “healthspan” and shorten the length of “diseasespan.” He acknowledges that we have many ways to predict future possible health consequences by taking into account family history, genetics and using the wide array of medical tools (blood work, MRI’s, bone density, colonoscopy, mammograms, EKG, etc). There are many tools available for pre-screeening and preventive actions for our physical health; and a plethora of ways to measure and mitigate risk.

The same cannot be said for emotional health. There are no clearly defined ways of measuring it. As Dr. Andrew Huberman acknowledged, measuring emotional health is tricky — and language is our dissection tool. If we have a very limited emotional vocabulary and equally limited understanding of our inner emotional world, it would be like trying to do a biopsy with a blindfold on.

Not having a concise way to measure emotional health does not preclude Dr. Attia from adding it to the longevity dashboard for his patients however. He firmly believes that like cognitive and physical health issues, intervening early is key.

Can you imagine the positive and transforming impacts that are on the horizon for our mental health crises if there is a major pivot to include emotional health in comprehensive medical care? And it doesn’t stop there — we have growing evidence that stress and anxiety, unprocessed trauma, dysfunctional environments as well as generational trauma and addictions (epigenetics) contribute significantly to our physical health. Could it be that early intervention on our emotional health be the gateway to solving some of our most perplexing medical issues, including cancer, ALS, dementia and more. I firmly believe that it will.

For the record, Dr. Andrew Huberman was recently a guest on The Drive (Dr. Peter Attia’s podcast) and in that episode, Andrew really opened up about his own childhood, his parent’s contentious divorce and the debilitating impacts that it had on him for a great part of his adult life.

The candor and vulnerability that both of these dynamic, successful young men shared on each other’s podcasts is proof positive that we are witnessing a game-changing breakthrough that is long overdue. The skeletons are coming out of the closets! No more sweeping emotional health under the carpet.

Dr. Attia did not hesitate to point out that the top priority on his personal longevity dashboard is emotional health. He shared that “it is the easiest to get out of balance, the hardest to manage and the one that creates the most pain in his life.

When Dr. Andrew Huberman pressed his friend for a definition of emotional health, Peter told him that it’s hard to specifically define it, and perhaps more relevant to recognize the components that make up strong, positive emotional health. The following is excerpted from his conversation in the HubermanLab podcast:

Connectivity with others just seems to be an inescapable part of this (emotional health), so the ability to maintain healthy relationships and attachments to others; having a sense of purpose; being able to regulate your emotions; experiencing fulfillment; experiencing satisfaction — all of these things matter. And, if we take an honest appraisal of ourselves, we will notice that we have deficits is these areas.”

Being “present” — which may have been less of an issue a hundred years ago than it is today — Being present is very difficult; thoughts about the future, not being satisfied with what is happening in the moment. I have to work hard to overcome those things. When you are present, you generally are in a much better frame of mind.” –Dr. Peter Attia

Connecting the Dots:

When Brene Brown began her research on shame and vulnerability back in 2001, she was an instrumental part of the necessary paleontologist team to excavate our human emotions. There were so many fossilized clues embedded in the stratifications of unprocessed emotions and traumas passed from one generation to the next over centuries.

When Dr. Bruce Perry published his book Born for Love in 2010, he unearthed what happens to infants whose basic needs and emotional pleas are not addressed in calm, loving and supportive ways. He was helping us grasp that there was a serious problem and he sounded an alarm for our growing empathy poverty. It was even more than a disconnect from our shared humanity and empathy – it was a snowball rolling down the hill toward our individual and collective declining emotional health — because we were not fully installing our basic emotional programming.

Also in 2010, Dr. Dan Siegel introduce us to his developing concept of “mindsight”- the newest science of personal transformation made possible through integration of the various parts of brain and mind/body connection. For more than a decade, Dr. Siegel continues to expand on his research and has introduced the most profound contemporary parenting model – The Whole Brain Child. Dr. Siegel is leading the charge for this dynamic pivot that “integrates” our fundamental emotional GPS system with all the parts of a child’s brain, slowly over time, as the child’s brain develops along with their physical bodies. Future generations who are nurtured with a whole brain parenting approach will most certainly be more “emotionally healthy” as adults and in turn, more physical and cognitively healthy as well.

This single pivot will have dramatic and positive impacts on our epigenetics and has the potential to stop generational cycles of inherited health issues, addictions, trauma and dysfunction in its tracks.

Stealing a line from Hamilton – “Look around. Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

We can all be participating in this evolutionary pivot. We start by attending to our own emotional health and then we teach and model this integration for younger generations – for our children, grandchildren and our grandchildren’s babies.

Take advantage of all the resources that are integrating and cross-pollinating to help us live longer, live healthier both physically and cognitively — and most importantly to live a well-balanced, emotionally well-regulated, purpose-filled, satisfying, deeply rewarding life.

Recommended Resources:

Outlive – a well founded, strategic and tactical approach to extending lifespan while also improving our physical, cognitive and emotional health. Learn why ignoring emotional health could be the ultimate curse of all.

“I can say with certainty that this man saved my life. He. made life worth living. But most importantly, he empowered me to find and reclaim myself again.” Lady Gaga.

Do the work to heal yourself and find a path through trauma. Trauma is everywhere and so many of us are silently affected by it.
Practical instruction for mastering the “Wheel of Awareness”, a life-changing tool for cultivating more focus, presence and peace in one’s day to day life

March 20 Episode with Dr. Peter Attia: Improve Vitality, Emotional & Physical Health and Lifespan (Fast forward to the last 48 minutes of the podcast if you want to hear Dr. Peter Attia share his personal experiences with emotional health intervention and recovery)

Pivot Points

Dr. Dan Siegel invites us to go back and revisit our childhood memories to liberate ourselves from old narratives. I have found this process to be incredibly cathartic. Today, I pull the curtain back to learn what happened in a poignant scene written and produced by the much younger version of me. And then, I pivot….and discover the transforming benefits of accepting Dr. Seigel’s invitation.

The Bully in the Sandbox:

When I was just four years old, I attended a pre-school that was across the street from the second floor apartment my mom, dad and I lived in. I loved pre-school with a colorful round rug for story time or show and tell, the long table full of textured arts and crafts supplies, white school paste and fat waxy crayons. I especially loved the sandbox full of sand pails and assorted plastic scoops. I’d skip the swings and the merry go round at recess and head straight for that sandbox. I had an affinity for scoops (and I still do today).

There was a rough and tumble boy in our class, who was bigger in size than most of us and he didn’t mind letting us know he had the power to take whatever he wanted. For some reason, what he wanted most nearly every day for two weeks was the one colorful plastic scoop that I had chosen. He didn’t want to play with it; he simply wanted to disrupt my fun. Day in and day out, he’d grab my scoop and run away with it, laughing at my tears I was trying so hard to stop. (I never understood why the teacher did not put a stop to this, but I will assume she had her hands full blowing noses, pushing kids on swings and catching the the dizzy ones as they dismounted the merry go round).

One day, I could not longer tolerate the bullying or the volcanic eruption of my big emotions that had been pushed down for far too long. As that boy grabbed my bright red scoop, I jumped up from the sandbox, trembling and sobbing uncontrollably. I ran across the street and up the stairs to our apartment.

I did not find the refuge I was seeking at home or the comfort I needed from my mother. My mom was outraged that I had run away from school and she punished me. She made me sit alone on the stairs in the dark attic, the place in our house that scared me the most. Afraid, afraid to cry, silenced but needing to tell my full story — and all occurring in the dark — all by myself.

At the tender age of 4, the story I told myself was fairly complex which I will credit in part to my wild, creative imagination: keep your strong emotions to yourself, things can most definitely get worse, don’t ask for help, don’t rat out the bullies, take care of yourself, keep your needs and feelings in the dark.

This scenario is not at all unusual with the old parenting model in vogue at that time. As I revisit this childhood memory, now more informed and educated about a vastly improved parenting model, I am able to witness this scenario with compassion for both me — and my mom.

I never expected to discover that compassion would take the place of the anger and confusion I once had; an anger and confusion that lingered like a heavy fog between me and my mother for most of my life. That’s the reality of unhealthy attachment styles from childhood — they become a lifelong tug of war, longing for our needs to be met and afraid to express them.

This revelation became a profound pivot from a broken childhood narrative, to a place of deeper understanding, with more context, awareness and compassion. It is precisely why Dr. Dan Siegel wants us to do this work.

The healing, transformational value in this Pivot Point cannot be underestimated. I wish I had done it decades ago.

This storyline I created from the infamous “bully in a sandbox vignette” played out time and time again in my childhood and family dynamics; even more so when my two younger brothers came along. This how I became a shy but responsible “helper”, a fixer of other’s problems, stubborn (the popular nomenclature for the independent, never-ask for help type) and an enabler in a multi-layered, codependent family dynamic.

As Dr. Rick Hanson espouses “what helped us get through childhood often gets in the way in adulthood.” Those adaptive childhood patterns often looked like worthwhile attributes: reliable and dependable, independent and not needy, capable and hardworking, a resourceful problem solver. The problem was they came with side effects: resentment, feeling unappreciated or devalued, confused over a lack of reciprocity of all my efforts, frequent bouts of exhaustion and anxiety, distrustfulness.

A little sidenote here: the one I distrusted the most was me because I didn’t believe that my needs were important; in fact, most of the time I didn’t even know what my needs were. So I disregarded warning signs and many times blindly trusted others who were not looking out for my best interests. No wonder internally I felt so jumpy and uneasy. I just didn’t understand what those valid feelings were trying to tell me.

Ian Morgan Cron, a well-known expert on the enneagram wrote his book, The Story of You; An Enneagram Journey to Becoming the Real You inspired by his own real life transformation that came from examining his childhood. His pivot point for doing this work came when he was in the 12-step program and had just finished sharing his life story during an AA meeting. A recovered and wise elder pulled him aside afterward and asked him if it was possible that he was “living in the wrong story.” This became the impetus for Ian to fully examine his childhood experiences and learn what was holding him back; even getting in the way of what he truly wanted out of life. Not only did Ian craft a better story for himself, he became a best-selling author, psychotherapist, enneagram teacher and host of the wildly successful Typology podcast series.

Many people who are now renowned experts in their fields have similar stories. Peter Levine, Ph.D, says that research is “me-search”. Dr. Levine is the developer of Somatic Experiencing, a naturalistic and neurobiological approach to healing trauma, which he has developed over the last 50 years. Brene Brown has had a 20+ year career studying shame, vulnerability, authenticity and connection. She originally published her book, The Gifts of Imperfection in August 2010 and in 2020 she re-published it as the 10th anniversary edition. The sub-title of The Gifts of Imperfection is yet another invitation to liberate ourselves from childhood narratives: “Let Go of Who You Think You are Supposed To Be And Embrace Who You Are”

The reason we have a $13 billion self help industry today is rooted in that old dysfunctional parenting model. It stunted our personal growth. We became rootbound by unconscious limitations.

Pivot Point – Overlaying the Better Parenting Template on that childhood memory:

I found that a valuable step in this revisiting exercise is to overlay the whole brain parenting template over the same “bully in the sandbox” scene and reimagine it. This step really opened my eyes and heart. It is precisely what led me to feeling genuine compassion for both me and my mom. I had a much greater understanding of the dysfunctional dynamics and how we got so derailed.

I imagined my 4 year old self being comforted by my mother, my big emotions validated, and resting in the comforting safety of her warm lap til I was calm. I pictured us walking hand in hand back to my pre-school to discuss the bullying incident with my teacher and having a meaningful discussion; possibly even getting an apology from the boy and to learning why he might be behaving poorly. Is it possible that he needed attention and lacked the skills to play nicely with others? Was his home life also stunting his personal growth?

I imagined my mother reflecting at day’s end on the whole experience, feeling really good about herself and how she showed up – for me, herself, my classmate and our teacher.

Here are a few relevant takeaways from overlaying this new parenting template on old childhood memories:

One: This is how we can “reparent” ourselves and unhook from the emotional baggage of our past. Terry Real, founder of Relational Life Therapy, uses this effective “reparenting” skill when he is working with his clients to help release their painful past so they can effectively work on their present relationships with a marital partner and their own children. It is a remarkable experience to release old painful, fossilized emotions from childhood memories that we’ve held onto for far too long; and that often prevent us from seeing what’s right in front of us today.

Two: We readily recognize how much more skillful and grounded we would have been had we been “pre-loaded and practiced” in what healthy attachment styles look and feel like. This is a bit like having a crystal ball that allows us to see how these better relationship skills and tools would have positive impacts on our friendships, our work colleagues, our marriages and our own parenting. Most importantly, we would know ourselves well, and have strong core values to guide us.

Three: We become acutely aware of the valid role our emotions play in our lives. That old parenting model bypassed one of our most vital human operational systems — and the very one we needed most as young children. Our emotional operating system is the foundational component for our developing, complex brains. Being fully integrated with our emotions – being able to name them, to know how they feel in our bodies, to understand their relationship to meeting our core needs, to get the support we needed to be with our emotions — would be a lifetime game-changer.

Four: We can apply some reverse engineering to reconnecting with our most authentic self. While finding our “authentic self” seems like a cliche, the reality is that if our childhood needs for attachment were imperiled by our authenticity (our connection to what we truly feel), then naturally we “closed off” parts of our most genuine self. Perfectionism, rigid role identification, hyper vigilance, people pleasing, harmonizing, defensiveness — they all come from the tension between our need for attachment and our true authenticity. How many times have you wrestled with mixed emotions trying to determine which one was truly your inner GPS? Did you chose the path of least resistance (harmonizing or going along with something) even though inside you did not want to participate? When we gain greater clarity about our true and most authentic self, we become more at ease with ourselves and have greater emotional regulation dexterity and discernment.

The enneagram can be a valuable resource to help us reconnect to our authentic self and rediscover our unique gifts in healthy and productive ways. That tension between attachment and authenticity moved us to the unhealthy end of our enneagram spectrum. The uniquely best parts of ourself contorted into armor and obstacles, often taking us farther away from what we need and want the most. We can reclaim our natural born gifts and begin to use them as they were intended — to enrich our lives, to give us meaning and purpose.

The Launchpad for More Pivots:

Once I pulled the curtain back on that “origin” story of many of my adaptive behavioral patterns, I was curious about other parts of my adult history that might have played out quite differently with the whole brain parenting model. There were many.

I know that it is a familiar refrain to say that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or to say that “we wouldn’t be who we are today without all the choices and events that got us here” but I’d like to offer a different frame for those old platitudes.

What would our world would look and feel like today if so many of us had not been hiding our gifts and authenticity? If we had been skillful enough to use our emotional navigation to stand up for ourselves and others, one sandbox incident at a time. What if our emotions had been accepted as basic human programming and nurtured rather than labeled good or bad, right or wrong, male or female.

You know that familiar refrain that sends us straight to the self help section of our local bookstore: “hurting people hurt people” ? We hurt each other and ourselves all the time because we are so disconnected from our authentic self and we lack the awareness to see that we project our hurt onto others. We could stop this cycle in its tracks if we took the time to go back and reevaluate our childhood experiences and reclaim our authenticity.

Instead of “projecting” our pain, we can learn to “reflect” our similitaries and realities of being flawed, messy, deeply feeling, remarkable, amazing, complex human beings. No more judging or comparing; simply reflecting and sharing.

This pivot would be a game-changer.

Would we have less anxiety, pain and suffering, addictions, physical and mental health issues?

Would we be using our gifts, our time and energy in ways that give us great satisfaction, energize us, foster our resilience and help us see possibilities where we once saw only problems?

Here is an observation so noteworthy I don’t know how we have missed it: Have you noticed the vastly improved energy level of people who have freed themselves from their old stories? People who once were mired in their pain, sadness, limiting beliefs and even addiction are now some of our most dynamic motivational speakers. They energize us! They make us laugh, raise our spirits, help us see our potential, they listen to learn, empathize, normalize and encourage.

That is the tangible transformational magic of all this work.

Pay attention and you will discover that the people who have done this inner work are now using all their authenticity and natural born gifts in empowering, energetic and life enriching ways. Not just for themselves….but for everyone with whom they interact.

If you lean in a little closer, you will also discover that the continual learning and discovery process is amplified — both the teacher and the student sharing insights, experiences and emotions that perpetuate even deeper wisdoms.

Learning from a Master:

One of my most delightful experiences is to discover someone who has integrated all this practical, pragmatic data into a well-lived, well-loved, inspiring story of their own life. Not a psychologist or neuroscientist, not a trauma expert or shame researcher. It is in the magic of someone full of creativity, who followed their bliss and found success doing what they love.

Without further ado, I share with you someone who epitomizes the magic of living life most authentically — the legendary music producer, Rick Rubin, a savant of creativity. How remarkable is it that Rick Rubin let his love of magic tricks as a young boy infused his life journey with the endless wonders of possibility? He believes in that magic.

Rick Rubin has helped generations of musical artists discover their own unique gifts because he was patient, deeply sensitive and keenly attentive to being open to possibilities. He confesses to being somewhat exhaustive about endless possibilities.) His extensive list of clients include Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Adele, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Dixie Chicks and the Beastie Boys.

Rick recently published his first book entitled The Creative Act: A Way of Being. Here is a successful man, in his 60’s, who spent the past 7 to 8 years reflecting on his life, experiences, clients and creativity to write this book. He sums it all up this way:

“I set out to write a book about what to do to make a great work of art. Instead, it revealed itself to be a book on how to be.”

I’ve curated a few of Rick’s profound wisdoms from three podcasts where he was a recent guest. The fact that Rick was interviewed on three very diverse podcast platforms is a testimony to the fact that there is more integration in our lives than we realize. Rick was a guest of Andrew Huberman on The Huberman Lab (the neuroscience of creativity), of Malcolm Gladwell on Revisionist History (generating creative authenticity and finding your voice) and of Krista Tippet’s on the OnBeing Podcast (conversations on what it means to be human and finding meaning in life).

What I love about Rick’s insights is what he says he learned from writing his book — he declares he didn’t know all of this, he noticed it. He noticed the very things that are now being actively taught to us by neuroscience, social science, behavioral science and psychology — the whole ball of wax of self help modalities.

See if you can relate to what Rick noticed:

“We come into our lives as a blank slate. What we take in over the course of our lives is all that we are filled with. Our memories, emotions and subconscious are acting at all times. We never know where it is coming from (our reaction) and it doesn’t always make sense.”

We need to get out of our own heads, what we were told, what we were taught — being free to experiment, to have fun and experiment and find a new way of doing something. Embrace it instead of thinking we are doing it the wrong way.”

“The fact is that man’s own baggage of beliefs — of thinking we know best — is what was holding man back. There is so much that we think we know that we don’t know. We need to remove the distracting information that we hold true – that is stopping us.”

“I think when you really listen to someone, they act differently. Most people are not used to being heard.”

“Music lets out our inner emotional life. Music has an emotional base to it – even without the words. We feel this energy. You can channel the energy and emotion you have.”

His insights on meditation: “Your life off the cushion changes — because you are building a new reality within yourself — an emotional musculature. You are more in tune with the present as you are experiencing it in this moment — and not the distractions that the world is bombarding us with….but a wider more open, and generous curation — we see more and take in more.”

What’s Ahead:

There’s so much overlap and integration happening in diverse fields and modalities for supporting our overall health, well being and authenticity. My upcoming blog posts will focus on connecting the dots on this ever evolving frontier.


Rick Rubin: Magic, Everyday Mystery & Getting Creative, March 16, 2023

Check out the music of Patrick Droney and check out this recent YouTube video on his take on re-pair by going back in time to his childhood


My Daily Gummies of Wisdom

I’m a huge fan of Laura Numeroff and her children’s book series “If You Give….” Her whimsical book, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” has often been my “go to” easy explanation for how our daily lives simply unfold in a series of unplanned, seemingly disjointed events; some are fun and creative, some are messy and disruptive; some are energizing and others exhaustive. At the end of the day, we take stock of what we got accomplished. Very often it was much more than we had intended and very little of what we thought we needed to do and upon reflection, full of spontaneous, present moments of life that matter most.

Using Laura’s books as a template for my own personal growth journey, I have begun to extract little nuggets of wisdom that unfold throughout an ordinary day. If I didn’t take the time to reflect on what transpired throughout the many interactions of my day, I might miss all those opportunities to “connect the dots” of the “before and after” pivots that are evolving as I am changing.

In July, 2021, I launched a new component to this blog website — Nuggets of Wisdom. My Nuggets of Wisdom posts were planned as a monthly compilation of witty, inspiring, educational and uplifting self-discovery insights that I was experiencing and witnessing. In true “If you give a mouse a cookie” fashion, this monthly collection began to organically shift to a daily practice. I combine my love of photography with my little “gummies” of wisdom — two of my favorite things rolled into one.

My photos and my creative writing came together unexpectedly and now, I simply cannot imagine a day without my daily “gummy”. While I take supplements to support my physical health, my daily gummy of personal growth nourishes my continued learning, keeps me invested in my practices, and has most definitely cultivated greater awareness of myself and others.

Here is one of my biggest take-aways from seven years of personal growth and self-discovery: We are changing every single day and often are completely unaware of it. When we make a commitment to a growth mindset, to stepping out of what is no longer working for us, to practice every day (even just a little), to have the courage and the drive to “show up” in healthier ways — amazing transformation organically takes root in us.

I am living proof of the results. I am not the same person I was when I started this personal growth life plan. I have observed it in the researchers, the experts, the teachers, therapists and coaches that educate me. What has touched my heart the most is the similar transformation I have witnessed in my family members and friends who are also doing their personal growth work. For this very reason, I am kicking off this blog post of “gummies” with this one: Be Yourself

Daily Gummy of Wisdom: Be Yourself

Be yourself. What does it feel like in your body when you are as open, as playful and overjoyed as this little guy?

Notice that he is “belly up”…..soft side showing. Arms outstretched to embrace the present moment, to be aware and grateful. He is smiling — from the inside out! Do you feel his invitation to connect? To play? To share his unabashed joy?

This little guy broke the script….he opted to spend today with a fresh perspective, leading with openness and vulnerability. Notice not only the difference in how he feels — notice your reaction to his change!

Normally, his protective armor and clever disguise that shows when he is walking around as usual sends out a warning sign: stay away, beware, leave me alone. Same old routine…..head down, seeing only a foot or two in front of and above him….plodding along, dragging his tender underbelly on dew-covered grass….headed back to the swamp. He’s missing out! and so are we!

That’s what protective armor and old behavioral patterns do — they keep us from breaking the script, breaking free, seeing and experiencing life from a fresh perspective — and most importantly, inviting “connection.” Connection to our true nature, to what brings us joy, ease and that blissful inner peace of being comfortable in our own skin, knowing who we truly are.

Own it….you intuitively know your bets parts of you. Show them — be yourself! Be like this little guy and surprise yourself and those around you. Soft belly up, heart open, stretching into your true self.

This little gummy reminds me not to “armor up” with old reactive patterns. I vividly recall a memory of being told “not to be my sunny self” when I was younger. Being a people pleaser at that time in my life, I complied. I turned down the dial on my authentic self and in doing so, I did not even feel like myself. Someone snapped my photo in that moment. When I saw that photo a week later, it was very evident from my facial expression and my body language that I was not my true, best self. I looked sad, demure, snuffed out. It took a photo to show me what should have been so obvious. Tamping down the best parts of myself — what made me feel so good, so energetic, so engaged — was a temporary fix for someone else’s fleeting need — but a reinforcement of a habit of hiding my most genuine self. This silly little ceramic alligator, laughing on his belly like a joyful child, is a strong mental image of what my best self looks and feels like.

It also serves as an important reminder to tease apart the cost of not being our authentic selves when we are hoping to meet the needs of others. Just because someone else was having a bad day and preferred to marinate in all that grumpiness, did not mean that I needed to do the same as a way to prove my support. A more skillful pivot is to stay grounded in who I am (my sunny self), while being supportive and listening to understand. The irony is that my genuine sunny self has deep empathy, kindness and patience; my armored self loses touch with those traits. They are blocked by resentment.

If I shut down my most authentic self, I cannot offer what would be most beneficial and supportive to another. We both lose.

Today if I feel resentment moving in like a hazy fog, I remember that my inner sunshine cuts the fog and lets me see more clearly. “Get back to home base” I will remind myself. “See things clearly and course correct; don’t jump ship (i.e. don’t abandon your true self).”

Daily Gummy of Wisdom: Practice Makes Us Skillful

This gummy of insight was inspired by Forrest Hanson, host of the Being Well Podcast, one of my favorite resources for all things personal growth, self help and mental well being.

I love this terminology of “practiced people” coined by Forrest Hanson. It puts the emphasis right where it needs to be — on the practice. And it tosses out that old cliche that “practice makes perfect” when comes to self-discovery and personal growth. We are definitely not striving to be perfect — we are “practicing” to be more skillful in our lives and relationships.

Rarely are there optimal circumstances for any of life’s obstacles — that’s why skillful matters more than striving for perfection. We are better served with flexility, resourcefulness and calmness. For example, no two drives to work are ever the same, right? There’s weather, traffic jams, the level of gas in the tank, the amount of time we have vs. the amount of time we need (you get the metaphor, right?). It’s the consistent practice in ever-changing driving situations that make us better (not perfect) drivers.

“Practiced people” still face the same emotions, the many thoughts, the challenges that everyone faces each day. They are, however, better resourced with tools and skills to support themselves in healthy ways. The pivot for them is the daily commitment to “practice” these skills and using these tools. They also “practice” core inner resources — self awareness, self compassion, emotional processing and regulation, and personal accountability.

Practiced people are great sources of support for each other – and for the novice just dipping their toes into self-discovery.

We can read books, listen to podcasts and even use current self help buzz phrases….but it is the practice that is the engine of real progress.

This gummy of wisdom actually came to me as I reflected on how my conversations with my own “practiced” friends have evolved over recent years. At the beginning of our engagement with personal growth, we felt like school kids poring over the material of a brand new subject. We’d read or listen to the textbook material, then call a friend and say “this makes no sense to me” or “what are you getting out of this?” Time would pass, we’d integrate what we could and often we’d find some new book, teacher or modality to explore on our own. Then we would happily share the new information with each other.

The gift of each of us being invested in this personal growth work was that we all wanted to get a passing grade and were willing to support each other to accomplish that. We’d laugh together when something finally clicked into place and made sense. We’d share our little hand drawn charts to help us remember key lessons or the clever images that served as cliff notes. We’d remind each other to use the new skills and tools, not just read about them.

We had a lot of heart to heart conversations, sharing parts of our stories that we had never told before. While it was often initially uncomfortable to be so honest not only with ourselves but with each other, we soon discovered that this got a lot easier and was so cathartic. As we unearthed old memories that needed to be processed, we leaned on each other to do the work. We uttered a lot of “me too’s”. We helped each other discard or reframe old narratives.

There has been a lot of encouragement and celebrating along the way as well. We know just how far we’ve all come and we love seeing how our personal transformation has brought out the best in us, how freely we laugh now, how we move through life more effortlessly with less resistance.

Yes, we do still deal with the same daily issues that everyone does, but we handle them more skillfully now, honoring and processing emotions in real time instead of decades later. We don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and ask for help if we need to rumble through tough problems. Honestly, we just ask better questions and do listen to understand more deeply than we once did; we do this for ourselves and we do this for others. Less armor, less defense mechanisms — more space, grace and generosity in believing we are all doing the best we can.

A few years ago, I had heard an incredible story of the invaluable role that older women played in a very rural community for young people who did not have easy access to mental health resources. The patience, compassion and the listening that these women offered to others proved to be as beneficial as a formal, professional counseling session for members of their community. It was the origin story of the Friendship Bench. Those older women were “practiced people”.

I have reflected on the concept of the Friendship Bench often coupled with the teachings of Dr. Bruce Perry about the importance of our relationship scaffolding – the very webbing we all need to support our basic needs and forward growth. We can all benefit from good conversations with “practiced people.”

An AHA Moment:

Even the long-time experts will be honest about the ongoing nature of personal growth work, about the times they have slipped up, got caught by strong emotions, and made mistakes. We love their candor and take heart in knowing that this is human nature. We learn from them that we can fix our mistakes, we can create stronger relationships through rupture and repair; we can even be more understanding of each other through our own personal growth work. It simply reinforces that we are working on being skillful, not perfect.

What’s fun about all this work is going back and re-reading books or our journal notes and realizing just how far we’ve come — and possibly discovering something new to learn; something we might not have been ready for when we first got started.

That’s what my daily gummies do for me — they not only reinforce what I have learned previously, they continue to foster greater awareness and help me see where there is room to grow.


Learning What We Want to Teach

My last three blog posts have been dedicated to helping us understand how a child’s young brain develops. Understanding both the present limitations and the future potential of these incredible developing child brains is not only transformational for parenting — it is equally transformational for us adults. In fact, it may be the gateway we need to help us understand ourselves better.

If we overlay this new whole brain parenting template on our own childhood, it will become very evident that few of us got what was needed to provide integration between our young nervous systems and our future upper brain processing. The old parenting models did not have the benefit of the recent neuroscience and neurobiology breakthroughs; nor did these models address the invaluable role our emotions play in our mind/body connection.

This is precisely why Dr. Dan Siegel is such a strong proponent of adult personal growth work. We can’t teach what we don’t know. And in all likelihood, we were not taught emotional awareness and regulation, mind/body connection, and core relationship skills. I know that I never heard about co-regulation, attunement or attachment styles when I was growing up; and I didn’t read about them in my dog-earned copy of Dr. Spock’s child care book and no pediatrician ever explained brain development to me.

I had no idea that my own personal growth journey, started eight years ago, would lead me back to my childhood. It’s taken me a long time to excavate, unravel and detangle myself from the pitfalls of that old parenting model.

So many times throughout my eight years of self-discovery work, my friends and I would lament, “I wish I knew this stuff when I was younger.” That’s the gift embedded in hindsight. We truly can look back –with the insight and knowledge we now have — and see much more clearly how complicated our lives and experiences were because we were using coping strategies instead of meaningful life skills.

This is precisely why I feel so “connected” now when I’m interacting with my grandchildren — especially when they are overcome with big emotions. I intimately know how it feels to be little and overwhelmed; and I now have much better knowledge and tools for responding to them. I am playing an active role in teaching what “I wish I knew then.”

Looking Back Through the Lens of Hindsight:

I grew up in a very unpredictable and dysfunctional Petri dish. Like most in similar environments (very commonplace for my generation I have discovered), my coping strategies became my “super powers”. Just like Brene Brown, I too became hyper vigilant for the inevitable volcanic eruption of big emotional clashes between my parents and siblings. I became a first responder – calm under pressure; assessing both the situation and the damage quickly; applying first aid where needed and cleaning up the broken pieces. But my Nurse Nancy crisis tool kit had only “aftermath” tools in it. I can’t tell you how many times as a little girl I longed to live in an environment where first responders were not the order of the day.

I went out into the adult world wanting calm stability more than anything. I naively believed that I could somehow “create and maintain” that stable calm; possibly avoid unnecessary drama and routine chaos and crises.

Hindsight is the crystal clear rear view mirror that reminds us that life is as unpredictable as the ocean. We can’t avoid stormy seas, bad weather and engine troubles with our boat. All I brought with me from childhood was a tattered Nurse Nancy first aid kit and emergency responder capabilities (i..e. poor coping strategies and childlike behavioral patterns). What I have come to appreciate is the value embedded in Whole Brain Parenting — of being raised to be the “captain of our ships”, to trust our internal GPS system (emotions), and to have a fully integrated operating system (all parts of our complex brains).

Imagine the confidence and empowerment that would come when stepping into the adult world better pre-loaded and prepared for all the elements. Eighteen years of real life experiences, in meaningful, daily apprenticeship with our skillful parents, learning how to successfully navigate good times, adversity, obstacles and necessary course adjustments. This just takes my breath away — it is so exhilarating.

That Sticky Emotional Undertow:

Regardless of the entry point for self-discovery and personal growth, sooner or later we will come to realize that what happened in our childhoods did have some long lasting impacts on how we view ourselves and how we are showing up in the world as adults. That has surely been my personal experience. As I began to peel the layers off my own life onion, I discovered blind spots and behavioral patterns that had their origins in my childhood.

In my last blog post, I shared that my number one goal as a parent was to “calm” a distressing situation as quickly as possible. That was my childhood conditioning taking charge of what I was feeling coursing through me – even though it was now my own child who needed my attention first and foremost. (Just a little relevant reminder here — I stepped into adulthood craving calm). I did not have any bandwidth left at that time to cope with what I perceived as unnecessary hardships and drama.

My poorly functioning emotional system had a faulty modulator. My own emotional discomfort at witnessing my child in distress hijacked my logical brain. I needed things to be calm; I wanted my kids to be calm again — but all along it was me who needed to be the calm. The emotional undertow from my childhood was strong; like a rip tide.

I grabbed my first responder kit and leaned hard on what got me through my childhood, with a heaping dose of good intentioned consoling in the form of special activities, cookies or fun distractions — after all, I had the agency now as a grown up to offer these comforts to my child. (See the pattern? See how I was not able to “pre-load” and “teach” what I didn’t know?). My instinct was “get to calm” quickly and my “go-to’s” to achieve this was consoling (not connecting); tangible comforts with a short shelf life (not teaching emotional awareness, regulation and resilience). It was the old paradigm of dismiss those feelings, get back to happy, have a treat.

The flip side of this double-edged conditioning was that in my adult relationships, I’d stuff my emotions to give the appearance of being calm, reliable, self sufficient. I had a black belt in this coping strategy from childhood. I was the compliant child, the one my parents could count on to never make a scene or cause embarrassment. What I didn’t know was that stuffed emotions become the tempest in the tea pot.

These exiled emotions don’t go away and they don’t go silent. In fact, they will just keep pounding on the door trying to get our attention for the things that do matter most to us. When my emotions demanded that I let them out of storage, I would have an uncharacteristic, unreasonable blow up over something minor — which would cause me both shame and embarrassment. Or….I’d be engulfed in the mire of resentment on the inside while I gave the appearance of being the happy, efficient, dependable “helper” on the outside.

Stuffed emotions will most assuredly not ensure calmness. Stuffed emotions rock the boat.

Both of these scenarios — of me as a parent and of me as a partner – show how taking those childhood blueprints into the adult world become a “doubling down” of the very things we are trying to prevent. I’d ask myself over and over (for decades) why my well-intentioned parental lessons weren’t sticking; and why I was often cleaning up other people’s consequences of their own actions. I could not see the neon yellow post it note on my forehead that said “First Responder”.

Learning What We Wish to Teach:

I am no longer swooping in to stressful situations unconsciously trying to soothe and comfort my own younger self. Yes, I now have awareness that so often throughout my life, I was often doing just that — unconsciously trying to comfort myself at the same time I was attempting to care for others. I could literally feel my emotions (both old and new) swirling all through my body and I did not have the awareness or tools to attend to myself first — and then turn my full attention and skills to another.

As parents and grandparents, we have to put our own oxygen mask on first.

Being swept away in our emotional and somatic vortex will not help us attend to the basic human needs of our children in the calm and grounded foundational ways needed to be effective “teachers.” It will also not help us in being healthy, flexible, supportive partners.

This is precisely why Dr. Dan Siegel believes that the key to becoming a better parent, partner or grandparent is to begin by examining our own childhood:

How you make sense of your own past is the best predictor of how your child will get along with you. So, try out that work first. It’s amazing how often people then find unbelievable liberation — by just that knowledge…..that it isn’t what happened to you, it’s how you made sense of what happened to you.”Dr. Dan Siegel (on Becoming a Better Parent)

Dr. Siegel suggests we begin with our childhood attachment style. Discovering that our childhood attachment style may have been avoidant, ambivalent (anxious or preoccupied), dismissive or disorganized can shine a lot of light on our present day issues in life and our relationships. As he reveals, it can even help us discover why we may be having trouble relating to our own kids (in spite of our best intentions).

Start exploring who you were as a kid, who were your parents and how they influenced your development. It is not what happened to you as a child, it is how you made sense of what happened to you. People often freak out and are very resistant to going back to examine their dysfunctional or painful childhood. Yet if you focus on your own history — and in a methodical way — go through your memory systems, go through your narrative system, you can actually liberate yourself from the prisons of the past. This is supported by brain plasticity studies.” — Dr. Dan Siegel (on Becoming a Better Parent)

For the record, the prisons of the past are limiting beliefs we have about ourselves, emotional triggers that hijack us from staying calm and present in the moment, poor emotional regulation, our default (outgrown) behavioral patterns, and our inner critic. Clinical psychologist, Becky Kennedy shares that “our voice to our kids becomes their voice to themselves.”

I can attest to the liberation that Dr. Siegel says is possible. Going back through both memory and narrative was well worth my time and effort. I’ve often shared with friends that I opened up a lot of “real estate” for new and better ways of being. This inner work serves as a really good indicator light when I am faced with a familiar situation, but can catch myself before stepping into an old unhealthy pattern or reaction.

If we don’t cultivate our self-awareness and replace outdated reactions with better life skills and tools, we will inadvertently be teaching our kids the very patterns and coping styles we adopted in childhood. Good intentions alone are not the path forward. We need to be working on the same emotional regulation skills and relationship tools that we wish to teach.

I found the enneagram to be a very helpful accompaniment for this methodical work that Dr. Siegel proposes — and for teasing apart all the ways that childhood attachment styles contribute to our emotional armor and adaptive behavioral patterns. Even if you don’t determine what your own enneagram type might be, reading through all nine types descriptions and typical behavioral patterns is incredibly helpful for understanding ourselves and others.

The enneagram can be a window into the inner world of others and what may be submerged in their childhood. I found that it really helped me to recognize that how others were “showing up” in life was driven more by their core needs than by the relationship dynamic we’d created. This fresh perspective was enough to help me shift how I could show up in better ways for others; and it helped me not to take things so personally.

This is a meaningful link between attachment style and our behavioral patterns. We are often using those old childhood blueprints to get our adult needs met only to discover things are backfiring. We push away what we want the most; we make it hard for people to support us; we aren’t clear in our needs or boundaries.

The enneagram helps us understand just how those developing little brains of ours lacked the integration of what we were feeling in our young bodies with an upper brain that could help us make sense in a logical, more mature way. If our parents were disregulated, we learned to navigate disregulation. If there was a lot of chaos and uncertainty, we learned to silence our needs. Maybe we became compliant or defiant, peacemakers or troublemakers.

These childhood strategies worked because we came to count on the predictability of the unpredictably of our internal family systems. As children, we grew to know our parents and siblings patterns of behavior very well. So even if it was a Petri dish of uncertainty, confusion or volatility, we had our own “go to” patterns — all formed out of reactivity not inner resources.

Once we go into adulthood and start building our own lives and relationships, the Petri dish changes. The once familiar predictability of our family unit is replaced with new people bringing their own internal family systems with them into new relationships. Now we are in a whole new environment and we are fish out of familiar water.

I once saw an Australian TV show where a new love interest shows up for the main character, with an entire room full of suitcases, roller bags and totes — with a shoulder shrug and an impish smile, he announces “this is my emotional baggage.” Talk about a powerful image to drive home the point about all that we bring with us into our relationship dynamics and parents. The tap roots of our coping methods and behavioral traits can be traced back to childhood.

Here’s where things get even more interesting. In Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown shares with us that a lot of emotions show up looking very similar to each other but in fact can be quite different. So, if we operate on only on sparse emotional knowledge, we may mistake a partner’s or child’s emotion for anger when it is really fear or confusion.

Brene’s research for Atlas of the Heart revealed that most of us have a very limited emotional vocabulary — happy, sad or angry. How can we possibly be teaching our children the invaluable gifts of our emotions if we possess such a limited understanding ourselves?

The relatable personal stories woven into Brene’s book will help shed even more light on how our childhood impacts our adult relationships and parenting. Atlas of the Heart is yet another remarkable resource for becoming better “teachers”. Brene Brown expands our emotional vocabulary and granularity from three to 87 familiar emotions and lived experiences.

Cultivating Self Awareness and Honing Our Teaching Skills:

Just look how much we have changed with each generation in order to protect our kids and learn from our past experiences. To be honest, a lot of the things we take for granted today were met with a lot of resistance early on. Just listen to Malcolm Gladwell share how reluctant we were to use seat belts in our cars! Can you imagine any new parent not putting their newborn in an infant car seat, in the backseat, for the drive home from the hospital? Can you imagine teaching a young child to ride a bike without a protective helmet?

All that we are learning from neuroscience, neurobiology, epigenetics, psychology and the social sciences are making very clear where we can do better — for ourselves and our children. As I have shared before, in just one generation, we can make the giant pivot in the right direction for present and future generations; for quality of life, the ability to successfully navigate the uncertainties of life, for strong inner resources, flexible relationship skills, emotional literacy, empathy and a grounded confidence in their own self worth.

The first step is learning what we need to teach. That requires being amenable to looking back at our own childhood with self-compassion, with honesty and clear eyes. Dr. Dan Siegel says that people are resistant to this because they don’t want to revisit painful memories. As Shrek would say “better out than in.”

“Better out than in” – one of Shrek’s most notable lines – means that rather than stuffing things (emotions, events, waste and irritants) into your being, it’s far better to have them processed, integrated, and/or released.

I believe in this process of looking back at our childhood and learning from our experiences through the lens of hindsight and new research. It is liberating and it feels expansive to be unburdened from old self imposed limitations.

I strongly believe that reframing parenthood as an “18 year apprenticeship for life” will lead to great teaching moments with our kids that we otherwise may have missed.


Listen to this converation about parenting with Adam Grant and Clinical Psychologist, Becky Kennedy:
Bringing Out the Good in Kids — and Parents
What a timely episode of Being Well. This one is chock full of invaluable insights about the body/brain connection and somatic psychology
Using the Body to Heal the Mind with Elizabeth Ferreria (2/27/2023)

You’ll want to listen to this podcast on Attachment Styles – Dealing with Common Symptoms and Becoming More Securely Attached (2/20/2023)
Please visit Dr. Dan Siegel’s Website to access all his incredible content and tools for Whole Brain Parenting, for his groundbreaking development of Mindsight and for greater insights into the impact of childhood attachment styles.

Putting It Into Practice….

My recent blog posts about Whole Brain Parenting have led to some great story sharing with parents and grandparents. It is these real life interactions with children that truly open our eyes and hearts to the positive impacts we can make.

One of my friends asked me if I could share an experience where I responded differently to one of my grandchildren, using what I am learning from Whole Brain Parenting. This is what I shared: My five year old grandson was crying uncontrollably, visibly shaken from a sudden scare. Although he was safe, he was still caught in an emotional tsunami. Dr. Dan Siegel’s framework popped into my head. I knelt down beside him, getting just a little lower than his eye level. I wrapped him in a gentle hug and said “that was so scary, wasn’t it?” He nodded between sobs. I assured him that he was now safe and I would stay with him while he cried. He told me that he wanted to stop crying but he wasn’t able to. “That’s normal” I told him. “you are just a little boy and at your age it does take a while to stop crying. It’s okay. I am right here helping you.”

It’s so natural to want to soothe and comfort a crying child, but this time I also could sense that I was in fact the “training wheels” he needed in that moment to help him regulate those really big, scary emotions. I could see how my calmness, my words and my gentle touch were taking effect – his little sobbing body full of tension beginning to relax, his breathing becoming steady, and soon the torrent of tears drying up. I offered him some cold water. After a big sip, he picked up his legos and began explaining to me the complex vehicle he was creating. All of this happened in just under 5 minutes.

As I walked to the kitchen with his now empty water cup, I took a few moments to reflect on what that experience felt like not only for my grandson, but also for me. There it was again — that word “awareness”.

That book – Whole Brain Parenting – informed my awareness about what was happening in the brain and body of a five year old. My full attention turned to meet his needs; needs that I now better understood. And all the while that I was comforting him, validating his emotions and normalizing his inability to tame them right away, I found myself feeling really connected to this new approach.

The “magic” in this integration approach is not lost on me. I didn’t have this whole brain parenting knowledge and accompanying skill sets when I was raising my own kids. I am sure that I soothed them when they were in distress. I am also sure that I inadvertently dismissed what they were feeling in the moment. My most pressing goal was to get them back to calm as quickly as possible. I am pretty certain that my old way took a lot longer than 5 minutes. There may have been a cookie involved too.

To be very candid, I wasn’t very skilled at “co-regulation” as a young parent. My own stress level was probably on high alert so its doubtful I was “cool, calm and collected” while attending to my emotional child — especially if all this was going down at the playground or grocery store. Depending on the circumstances, it’s likely I was as freaked out by a fall from the jungle gym as my child was; or awash in embarrassment watching my toddler have a full blown meltdown in the cereal aisle.

So why was I feeling so “connected” to this new approach? The answer to that question is embedded in all that I have learned (and continue to learn) through my own personal growth journey. When we are not taught the value of our emotions, healthy coping skills and emotional regulation, our life and relationships are so much harder. I know firsthand how it feels to go through life denying or hiding emotions; even being afraid of some of those very natural, human emotions. I’m well aware that stuffing emotions is very detrimental to living a wholehearted life. I’ve got the messy experiences to prove it. A lot of unprocessed emotional baggage kept me from living in alignment with my core values – especially when I was in high stress situations.

The hard work of unlearning, untangling and unearthing all the armor, the childhood behavioral patterns and the invalidating messages we were told takes a very long time. It also takes a lot of awareness, acceptance, self-compassion and courage. It takes commitment, dedication and practice. It can take a lifetime.

Did you know that the self help industry is a $13.2 billion business with average annual gains of 5.6%? Think about all the time and money we are spending to help people address the issues stemming from dysfunctional childhoods and a lack of knowledge about how our complex brains and bodies develop, integrate and regulate. What could we do with all that time and money if we didn’t create these problems in the first place? How might so many of our difficulties in life be reduced or even eliminated?

The bottom line is that we cannot teach what we ourselves do not know.

Ask anyone who has been doing their own personal growth work about how the quality of their life has changed, and they will share insights with you that are revelational. A familiar refrain is “I wish I had learned all this decades ago.”

Children are sponges for learning, so much of it occurring by example and osmosis — often mimicking the coping mechanisms and behavioral patterns of their parents. They will find a way to armor up to protect themselves when they are feeling vulnerable. They will learn how to make sense of their world with or without our help.

The real pivot point is recognizing that our kids can just as easily be taught these better life skills and tools. Dr. Dan Seigel makes it very clear in his book Whole Brain Parenting that “teaching” these skills to kids makes the lessons “stick”. It’s the integration between nervous system and brain that “pre-loads” them with the capacity to engage their upper brain as they get older, when emotions could potentially hijack them.

Proactively teaching our children has positive benefits that go both ways. As parents and grandparents, we get plenty of opportunities to hone our own emotional regulation and better life skills. Children will be witnessing how we are dealing with daily stress and the inevitable moments of emotional hijacking. We get consistent, diverse practice and our children get what we are teaching reinforced by watching us.

When we are using these better tools and skills to live within our core values and integrity, we build strong scaffolding for our children and grandchildren to do the same. They will gain confidence to ask for their needs to be met; it will be second nature for them. They will have a strong inner compass and be able to set boundaries for acceptable behavior with peers and even authority figures; they will have a well-honed sense of right and wrong. Within the safety net of their families, children will learn that we are all unique in our talents, gifts and emotional landscapes. They will come to respect and support differences in how others respond to unfolding events. Again, it will become second nature for them to “meet others where they are” and they will have a bulging toolkit of relationship resources to use for encouragement and empathy.

Think about the self-awareness and tools that we are teaching kids with the Whole Brain Parenting approach as the protection you want them to have when they are out in the world on their own. These are the “forever” life skills that are their helmets, seat belts, guardrails and values.

Parenting is hard work but maybe it has been harder than it has to because of the old parenting models we used. The lessons weren’t sticking. Author James Clear offers this insightful wisdom:

Goals are good for setting a direction but systems are best for making progress. We fall to the level of our systems. Our goal is our desired outcome. Our system is the collection of daily habits that get us there.

Remember that I shared my parenting goal was to get to calm as quickly as possible? I was focused on the immediate outcome. That old parenting approach was like playing whack-a-mole. When the lessons weren’t sticking, the game got old and I was exhausted.

Whole Brain Parenting gets the lessons to stick. I discovered that the “system” actually takes less time too. Each interaction, each intervention that begins with validation and provides integration “training wheels” becomes a much more productive and rewarding building block for parent and child…..or in my case, for grandparent and child.

Both parent and child not only “feel” more connected and in sync in these teaching moments, they both are literally making neural connections that are life-changing.

I’ve spent over seven years on committed personal growth work to unlearn all that I operated on from childhood that made my life more challenging than it needed to be. At long last, I have a life skills tool kit that serves me well and keeps me in alignment with who I really am. What I value the most these days is my calm consistency; my ability to recognize what I am feeling and honor it without letting it hijack how I want to respond to others. I will forever be a helper and a harmonizer – that’s my true nature. The difference is that I am showing up now with healthy skills and tools that support both me and those I love in much-improved ways.

Best of all, I am better resourced now to handle the hard times in life. We owe it to our kids to prepare them for those inevitable challenges. No one gets through life unscathed; there will be heartbreaks, losses, and adversities. We wouldn’t send our kids on a mountain hike without the gear they need to be prepared for any situation that might occur. We can cultivate their resilience, grit, resourceful and problem solving skills by teaching them how to breathe to calm a racing heart, how to disengage from racing thoughts to get to clear-minded rationale, to think through all potential options and choose wisely. We equip them with a mental checklist and a “system” that helps them meet these obstacles more skillfully.

One of the biggest mistakes we made in the past was ignoring how much our children need us to help them process grief. This may be one of the most pivotal changes that we can make. Grief is a very nuanced emotion that is woven into so many “every day” and “normal” life experiences. Grief is present when a cherished toy is broken, when our little souls are crushed by someone’s hurtful comments and we believe what they have said about us. Grief is present when a family has to move, when someone passes away, when we break up with a first girlfriend, or if there is a divorce. Watch the movie Inside Out to gain a deeper perspective on how children wrestle with competing emotions (including sadness and grief). Kids need us and our training wheels most during complex emotional events. We know how our emotions, and our sadness, can ebb and flow for weeks and months after life altering events. We need to be more attuned to our child’s inner emotional world during these long haul life experiences. Trauma can get lodged in us if we are unable to process it. You’d be surprised at the dramatic difference validation, normalizing, and empathy can make in these big moments.

Dr. Dacher Keltner is an emotions expert, and the Director of the Greater Good Science Center in Berkley, CA. He was a major consultant on the movie Inside Out. Dr. Keltner is a renowned resource for learning more about the important role our emotions play in the quality of our life – and especially how we can help our children understand and process complex and competing emotions.

The reason that I felt so “connected” to myself, to my grandson and to the whole brain parenting approach was that it felt so natural, so comforting and also empowering – for both of us. I was in alignment with my values and I was offering to this little emotional guy exactly what I would have loved to receive when I was a small child. He was not only receiving my comfort and support, he was taking it in and all on his own, he was able to gain emotional regulation. He quickly returned to what was bringing him joy in that moment — his beloved legos. I felt “connected” because we really were feeling what happens when we are seen, heard and valued.

Connection allows us to explore, innovate, trust, love, create and simply be. Connection gives us the power to be who we are and to enjoy the things that inspire us.” – Brene Brown

The Whole Brain Parenting approach is the transformational portal to this magical feeling of true connection. I felt it that day with my grandson in the most tangible way. The moment of clarity about the power of connection will be in my heart forever.


GREATER GOOD MAGAZINE ARTICLE: How the GGSC Helped Turn Pixar “Inside Out” (with Dr. Dacher Keltner)