Leading With Resilience Part Two (of Three)

Leading with Resilience Part Two (of Three)

A crucible is an instrument that chemists use to heat up certain elements and change their composition.  It is a device that can take a huge amount of heat, and is responsible for new compounds if you get the recipe right.  Crucibles can be a metaphor for individuals going through a tough time in their lives.  We all go through crucibles at certain points in our lives, and the way we transform ourselves is similar to the new elements that are created in the chemical crucible.  In resilience, the crucible is the place where you are physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually challenged in order for you to grow into a better person.  Resilient individuals use the heat of the crucible to improve their positions; leaders who use leading with resilience as a mantra do the same.  This week, we will look at part 2 of leading with resilience and explore some psychological factors that will help you to become a better leader by challenging the people that you lead. 

Get Creative

When you get creative in your leadership, you not only foster a creative environment but you place yourself and your team in situations where they will be forced to adapt and improvise.  Nobody wants to do the same old, unchallenging thing everyday.  Whatever your job is, the leader is responsible to keep things fresh and challenging.  Set high standards and hold individuals accountable to them.  Give impromptu training classes that push the envelope of your work, elevating your standards to a new level.  By getting creative, your people will be challenged and may even look forward to coming to work to see what’s going to be next.  When I worked on oil rigs as a consultant, I would always look forward to going to work because I never knew what was going to happen.  It was exciting, and sometimes dangerous work.  The goal of getting creative is to have your people eventually become comfortable in uncertainty.  That is one of the cornerstones of leading with resilience.  To lead with resilience, you must be creative.  

Never Quit/Know When to Quit

Quitting is one of those taboo words that nobody wants to think about, let alone say out loud.  Why is quitting such a bad word?  Because we exist in a competitive society that shuns individuals that give up when the going gets tough.  Believe me, I don’t like to quit.  However, as a leader, you have to know when not to quit and you have to know when to quit.  When a project is tough but you can see that it can be accomplished with the resources that you have available, then you should follow through, rally the troops, and drive on to the end.  However, if you are engaged in a project that has lost a substantial amount of money, or is simply impossible to accomplish with the resources that you have on hand or readily available, then you should decide to stop with the project and move on.  The consequences of not quitting can be as harsh and dangerous as the consequences of quitting.  When you drive your people into the ground simply because you don’t want to quit something, they not only get burned out but you may jeopardize future projects simply because you want to satisfy your ego.  Quitting a project because you are tired or want to do something else or another lame reason breeds complacency and your followers will lose respect for you and the company.  Taking an honest assessment of what is going on and gathering the powers to be to see exactly what is going on is a good way to give a “sanity check” to you project so that you can move in the right direction.     If you want to lead with resilience, never quit and know when to quit.  

Leading with Self Awareness

Leading with resilience starts with an understanding of yourself as a leader.  When you have an accurate assessment of what you can and cannot do, then you can improve on the “can nots" and maintain the “can”s.  There are many psychological instruments that leaders use for self assessment.  One such assessment is 360 feedback, where supervisors, peers, and subordinates give criticism of the leader.  As you can probably surmise, this feedback only works if the leader keeps his ego in check.  Furthermore, the criticism only works if it is genuine and constructive.  As a young SEAL, I remember the 360 feedback that I received from my main subordinate, the chief of our platoon.  Even though I outranked him, I welcomed the valuable operational feedback that he gave me because he had much more experience than I did.  Because of my openness to receive the feedback (a new guy in the SEAL Teams has a level of humility that you would not believe, whether an officer or not) and the open feedback loop that was present in the SEAL Teams at the time, I was able to keep my ego in check and improve my performance and leadership abilities.  Self awareness has a large empathy component as well, since you become in tune with how your actions and words affect others on your team.  Knowing yourself is a critical leadership element.  If you want to lead with resilience, you must be self aware.  

Leading with Attitude

Attitude is everything. Leading with a positive attitude can yield incredible results.  Attitude is one of those infectious conditions that other members of your team pick up on and respond to.  Negative attitudes and positive attitudes will permeate throughout a team.  We have all experienced this.  Have you ever been part of a team that was infected by the leader in both a positive or a negative way.  As a leader, it is your duty to maintain a positive attitude, even when bad things happen to you and your team.  When individuals make mistakes on your team, conduct a process improvement check or after action review and keep driving on.  Do this without emotion to maintain a positive attitude.  At times, attitude can make a huge difference in you and your team’s performance.  That is because your attitude and self confidence will actually affect the relationships that you have both with yourself and with other people.  Remember that the little things are the big things in leading with resilience and attitude, although something so simple, can have huge effects on performance.   Leading with attitude is an integral part of leading with resilience.


This week, seek out your own crucibles and challenge your leadership.  Keep your attitude, your self awareness, and your creativity in the forefront of your leadership activities.   Examine your projects and double your efforts on some and look at the ones that you want to cut away.  If you can cut them away, don’t be scared to do so, knowing fully well that sometimes you have to quit and not always drive forward with things that are dragging you, and your team, down.  Balancing all the leadership principles that you learned this week is not an easy task.  Remember that leading with resilience is a fairly easy concept to understand but very difficult to implement.  This is largely the result of the fact that we are constantly living in a state of stress and performance and it is sometimes very difficult to stop and refine your techniques.  With proper application of the leading with resilience principles, you will be able to operate more readily when the heat is on, and you and your team are placed in a crucible like situation.

“Lean into it!”

Dr. N

Leading with Resilience Part One (of Three)

Leading with Resilience Part One (of Three)

The SEAL Trident is the coveted symbol of U.S. Naval Special Warfare Sea Air and Land Commandos. The trident is hard to get; almost 80-90% of those who even attempt to qualify never wear one on their chest. If you are one of the resilient and tenacious individuals that get to wear it, the sense of accomplishment is second to none. One important point of trivia about the trident, or SEAL pin. It is the only insignia in the Navy that only comes in gold. Traditionally, enlisted personnel in the U.S. Navy wear insignias that are silver and officers wear gold insignias. Not so for the trident. The fact that enlisted SEALs wear the exact same symbol as their officer counterparts epitomizes what it means to be a leader in the SEAL Teams. I will attempt over the next three weeks to share with you 12 of the best practices that I have learned from my experience in the SEAL Teams and coupled with my extensive studies in the art of being resilient.

The Little Things Are The Big Things

As a leader, you will be remembered for the little things that you did, not the big ones. How did you make your subordinates feel? Did they want to follow you? Or did they simply follow you because of your position. Natural leaders do the little things so well that the little things become the big things. I remember Admiral Olson, the 1st SEAL 4 star admiral to command United States Special Operaitons Command, coming up to me in the hallway and ask me by name how I was doing. He took time out of his busy schedule to talk to one of his subordinates. Admiral Olson was the most inspirational leader that I have known, not because he asked me how I was doing that day, but because he paid attention to the little things. When you come to work in the morning, know that everything that you do and everything that you say, even everything that you think, is important. It may not seem like it is, but it is. Make sure that you do the little things correctly and with as much enthusiasm and tenacity as the big things. Keeping an organized life and making sure that you don’t put crap into your body may sound petty, but when the big mission comes around, you want to have the little things under control. Leading with Resilience begins with the little things.

Take Care of Your People, and they will Take Care of You

Leading with resilience begins with taking care of your people. When you take care of your people first, you show them that they matter and that they are important. People are the most important aspect to any business or organization, military or otherwise. Taking care of your people often means placing your interests at the end of your people’s interest. At Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training, where officers go through the exact same training as enlisted personnel, officers eat last. Period. I remember sometimes not being able to eat and having to eat scraps off of my enlisted personnel’s plates as I left the chow hall. Taking care of your people means that you will make sacrifices. That is what it means to be a leader. Taking care of your people also means that when the chips are down, they will be there for you. Taken from the Golden Rule, taking care of your people pays off huge dividends when you need them the most. Leading with resilience begins with taking care of your people.

Take Care of Yourself, But Only To Improve Your Ability to Take Care of Your People

Leading with resilience begins with taking care of yourself. You can’t be an effective leader if you are sick, broken or your mental faculties are not all there. Getting the adequate amount of sleep, eating the right foods, exercising, mentally challenging yourself daily, being in touch with your own emotions and the emotions of others, and understanding intimately your purpose in both your home and work life are all essential elements of taking care of yourself. Remember that taking care of yourself is not a selfish act; you do it only to be able help take care of your people in order to maximize mission effectiveness. Having a written plan in how you will take care of yourself and following a strict schedule is a great way to maximize this leadership trait. Individuals that only take care of others without taking care of themselves are doing a disservice to those who are under their care/leadership. Only by taking care of yourself, will you be able to maximize the benefits that you give to others. Being selfish in this paradigm is not selfish at all. Leading with resilience begins with taking care of yourself, so that you improve your ability to take care of your people.

Lead By Example

Leading with resilience begins by leading by example. Not asking your followers to do anything that you would not do yourself is leading by example. Followers want to follow someone who is operationally competent. This does not mean that you have to be the best in your company at what you do. It only means that you are a professional and you are striving to be the best at what you do. If you are the head of a manufacturing company, you should know something about manufacturing or at least have a passion to learn everything you need to know about the craft. When you lead by example, others will naturally want to follow you. Admiral Olson was not the strongest SEAL or the fastest or the most knowledgable at SEAL tactics, but he was always out there bettering himself and improving his performance at everything that he did. I remember during a demolition shot, he halted the entire operation because he wanted to know the intimate purpose behind what we were about to do on the range instead of simply “going through the training motions” that we all do from time to time. He showed me that day that even the simplest training has value if you take the time to assimilate the concept of the training. Leading with resilience begins with leading by example.


This week, examine the 4 concepts (8 more to come in the following weeks) of leading with resilience in your own life and see how they apply. Are you taking care of yourself? Are you leading by example? Are you taking care of your people? Are you glancing over the little things and saving yourself for the big things? Remember that Leading with Resilience takes knowledge, time, and effort to accomplish. Tune in next week for Part 2!

“Lean into it!”

Dr. N

Love Your Enemies

Love Your Enemies

Sometimes we learn from the ludicrous.  We see a ridiculous movie or hear about something that is so far fetched that it sparks something inside of us.  We see a phrase that pushes our cognitive faculties so much that we think that it can’t be possible.  The radical sometimes helps us take a look at our lives and see that, perhaps, what we have thought was a certain way for so long is, in fact, the opposite of what we should be doing or thinking.  If you have ever been in a situation where you were angry at someone or were hurt by what someone said about you, then loving your enemies may be the solution that you have been looking for.   

When we look at our enemies, we almost never associate love with them or even think about being kind to them.  However, if we can embrace this difficult concept, and actually follow through with it, we unlock something inside of us that is priceless.  The enemies that I am referring to are not the enemies of combat or lawlessness, they are the individuals or self inflicted thoughts that bring us anxiety and stress.  These are the enemies that may cause us to derail from what we want to accomplish in our lives or change the way we perceive the goodness in the world.  These are the enemies of self doubt, negativity, and self worth that plague every one of us at some point in our lives.  How can we even begin to think that we will love the thoughts or individuals that bring these types of feelings into our lives?  You see by loving our enemies, we accept them for who they are and we disarm them with positive energy.  An enemy that is hated is fueled by that hatred.  An enemy that is loved becomes powerless.  

Loving External Enemies

We begin with enemies that we can see or others can see. These enemies can take the form of an oppressive supervisor, individuals that criticize you, acquaintances that put you down, social media comments that are hurtful, an individual that cuts you off in traffic, or even a bad storm.  We can see the damage that a natural disaster brings as either a depressing situation that will never get better, or an opportunity to grow and help others.  I personally witnessed incredible acts of kindness and compassion in the wake of our most recent natural disaster, Hurricane Michael.  Individuals that would never have helped each other did so, with true compassion and love of a neighbor helping another neighbor.  That would never have happened without the storm.  External enemies can fuel our compassion and kindness towards others; something to cherish and never let go.

If we look at these external enemies as an attack on us, we almost immediately take a defensive stance and get angry.  If, however, we look at all of these enemies as opportunities to grow and learn, we start down the path with a grateful and empathetic heart, then everything changes.  Perhaps our boss is angry with us because we actually did something wrong?  Maybe we are not living up to our full potential with our critics?  Perhaps it’s time to cut away from all of those acquaintances and focus on a smaller group of true friends?  Sometimes enemies can trigger us to change or rise up out of our complacency?  We should be very thankful and grateful for that.  Wake up calls can be a priceless thing, and you can either be angry for that wake up call or cherish and love it.  Which position is the better one for your growth?  

There have been many individuals that have tried to get in my way in my life.  Individuals that said that I would never make it through SEAL training.  Individuals that said that I would never be successful at my business.  Individuals that said that I would never be able to have a happy marriage.  I thank all of these individuals for coming into my life everyday because they all motivated me to accomplish everything that they said that I could not accomplish.  They were my wakeup calls.  They drove me to get out of bed and accomplish my missions.  Love the wake up calls; if they help you get out of bed, then you can accomplish anything.  

Loving Internal Enemies

We have all heard the terms “the enemy within” or “we are our own worst enemies” at some point in our lives.  What does this mean and how can we love this situation?  I believe that these terms refer to our fear or failure or our insecurities of who we are as individuals.  These situations are biological set points that keep us alive and are 100% normal to feel.  Understanding that these feelings are normal and letting them wash over us is the first step in embracing them and turning them into the field that drives us to succeed.  What steps can you take to mitigate your fears of whatever it is that you are about to attempt?  Perhaps you are fearful of a new job or journey that you are about to embark upon?  That is normal.  The anxiety that you feel inside of you is designed to keep you alive.  Cherish it.  Love it.  Embrace it.  Use that fear and anxiety to help you to plan accordingly and prepare better so that you succeed at whatever it is that you are about to do.  The second feeling may be that of an insecurity that creeps in about who you are as a person.  Am I good enough to do this?  What if I fail?  Then what?  Again, this insecurity is there to help you to become a better person.  Have you left every stone unturned and have you done everything in your power to become the person that you were meant to become?  Have you exercised your God Given ability to help others and truly be the person that you were designed to be?  If you address these questions and start a task list that will help you to achieve your mission your insecurities will melt away.  That’s just how it works.  Embrace the insecurities and don’t ignore them.  They are there to help you to achieve new heights.  By looking at fear and insecurity in that way, we become more confident and better individuals.  When I was a child in school, I wrote a paper once that talked about all of the hobbies that I had started and then quit.  I actually used the word “quit” so many times in the paper that my teacher left me a comment on top of my paper saying that she hoped that I would “stop quitting” in the future.  This hit me like a ton of bricks and it’s something that I have taken with me throughout life.  Why was I quitting and quitting?  I believe that somewhere inside of me, I feared failure and so I would quit before I would have the chance of failing.  Failing became the enemy that I avoided.  Now, I love to fail.  Failure means that you have the opportunity to grow and get better.  Putting yourself in a position where you can fail is the first step to a long road of successes and, more important, personal satisfaction. 

Overcoming Adversity and Loving It

Whether your enemy comes in the form of a person who criticizes you or in the form of your own insecurity or even both, it’s up to you to change the way you perceive the enemy and turn a negative into a positive.  Once you do this a few times, you start to see adversity as a challenge and even a game to be overcome and beaten.  Once this happens you not only overcome the adversity, but you start to enjoy the process of doing it.  Just like water off a duck’s back, the adversity that you feel immediately changes into a challenge and you start to figure out how you will overcome that adversity.  In time, your entire paradigm of life events changes and nothing can affect you anymore.  It’s one thing to overcome adversity.  It’s totally another thing to overcome adversity and truly love the process of doing it.  This is the cornerstone of resilience and what differentiates those that simply “tough things out” and those who practice the art of resilience and truly love overcoming adversity in its tracks.  So it’s no wonder that loving your enemies becomes something that becomes part of you.  Welcome your enemies; they make you stronger and help you to achieve new heights in your life.  

Call to Action

When you see your “enemies” this week, whether they are external or internal, appreciate the fact that they are there.  Take them in and accept the fact that they will always be there.  Begin to see them as a challenge that drives you to greater performance levels.  What are the steps that I need to take in order to go around these challenges?  How do I keep my ego in check to maintain a positive attitude in the face of this adversity?  How do I deconstruct the situation, take my emotions out, and proceed in a logical way that will guarantee a positive outcome?  If you answer these questions, and I know that you can, you will be on the road to loving your enemies, conquering your fears, and improving your performance.

“Lean into it!”

Dr. N


Good Enough Is Not Good Enough

Good Enough Is Not Good Enough

We all want to succeed at the things that we do in life.  To some, success is measured in accumulation of wealth, time spent with family, prestige earned from a job well done.  

Just like everything else that we do in life, words and labels are of paramount importance when we are defining what we do and what we don’t do.  When you label a job as “good enough,” you are perhaps missing one of the critical elements of performance and the quest for perfection.  Is good enough good enough?  Perhaps for some it is.  But for others, good enough is never good enough.  

Military Perspective

From a military or high risk professional perspective (high risk professionals are those individuals who risk their lives or risk the lives of others in the line of duty), good enough does not cut it.  When lives are on the line, good enough is never good enough.  We always strive for perfection.  We may never attain it, but we make continuous course corrections and seek critical feedback from our trusted agents to come as close as we can to a flawless performance.  This may seem like too much work for some people; however, when lives are on the line and failure could mean certain death or worse, then approaching flawless execution is the only answer.  When high risk professionals settle for the “good enough,” then complacency can raise its ugly head and we all know what happens when we get complacent.

Civilian Perspective

For some civilian professions, good enough is not good enough either.  When your favorite professional team wins their respective title, they immediately study their films to see how they can do better next season.  Even if they have won the game.  Striving for continuous perfection is the mark of any professional organization; it should be a part of what you do as well.  If you are taking out the trash, make it the most perfect trash taking out event that you can accomplish.  Why?  Because good enough becomes a habit that is hard to break.  When you strive for perfection in everything that you do, this also becomes a habit.  A good habit.  

Love to Fail

Most people avoid failure at all costs.  If you learn from your failures, then you should be happy to fail.  In fact, those who fail learn more than those who succeed.  Stories abound of companies and individuals failing countless times before they strike gold in their respective areas or expertise.  Failing should be something that you embrace, as long as you learn from it and you don’t get someone killed in the process.  That is why it is very important to learn from your failures in training and not when you are playing for keeps.  Accepting failure and seeing it as a challenge can be quite a learning experience.  I remember when I was nearly drowned during a phase of SEAL training called Pool Competency, or Pool Comp.  We were attached underwater by and instructor who commenced to tie hoses in your Underwater Breathing Apparatus.  As a student, you were supposed to clear the problem (often without the assistance of air in your lungs) and you had to follow a certain set of procedures.  Failing during Pool Comp assured that you would learn from your mistakes so that you would not drown during a real world underwater emergency.  Good enough did not exist in this situation.  By failing during this phase of training, I learned that one should not be too confident of one’s abilities and always be on the alert.  I eventually passed the event and moved on, but I learned a valuable lesson that day.

Taking out the Trash and Having Fun

Striving for perfection does not have to be a negative event.  We are so programmed to be failure averse and avoid criticism that we have become psychologically soft and too sensitive when it comes to failure.  The way that you can become more accepting of criticism and actually enjoy the process of striving for perfection is to suppress your own ego.  In fact, go ahead and kill it while you are at it.  Our egos take hold of our emotions and other faculties and drive us to avoid failure and criticism at all costs.  Instead, you should focus on the mission at hand.  What can I do to improve my performance so I can support this mission that I am on?  And if the mission is taking out the trash of sweeping the floor, approach it in the same way that you would any other “more important” mission.  You see, everything that we do has an innate importance to it because it builds our ability to perform in any situation.  Just think of how you will perform at something that you are truly passionate about if you can perform flawlessly at something that you don’t like or want to do, like taking out the trash.


Push good enough out of your collective lexicon this week.  There is not place for it.  Strive for a flawless performance at everything that you do, from the most mundane to the most important.  Don’t do it for your own ego or self satisfaction.  Do it because it is the right thing to do and part of the mission that you are on.  A mission is always more important than the individual who is one it.  It supports a higher purpose and goal.  Practicing this pursuit of flawless performance at everything you do will pay huge dividends when you are in the arena and when you are doing something for real.

“Lean into it!”

Dr. N

Training to Increase Performance and Limit Injury

Training to Increase Performance and Limit Injury

The concept of training has existed as long as humans have been humans. We can see this in the play that animals conduct when they are little, whether it is the lion cub practicing for the kill or the chimpanzee posturing and practicing for a stand off with a potential competitor.  We train in order to get ready for something that is going to happen in the real world.  Most of us train for our jobs because we want to make money and provide for our families.  Some of us train so that we will survive at the jobs that we do; this is especially the case if you work in a high risk profession, such as an oil rig worker, military operator, or law enforcement officer.  The basic reason that we train is to increase performance and limit the chance of injury.  Let’s go back in time about 2500 years or so.  In battles, Spartans could not afford to be injured.  Their lives depended on it.  If a Spartan was injured during a battle, he probably did not survive to see the end of it.  Even a minor injury such as a twisted ankle or a dislocated shoulder (well those are not that minor) could prove devastating.  Thankfully, we have progressed into a more “civilized” society and we no longer live and die by how in shape or injury free we are.  However, even today, injury prevention is the number one rule for professionals in the realm of fitness. Injuries hinder any advancement toward achievable goals, diminish motivation, and in some extreme cases make the trainer look bad.

Preventing Injuries

An injury is simply physical damage to an area of the body. Most do not take into consideration is the negative psychological effect injuries spawn in a once highly excited and motivated participant. Injury prevention is a continuing progression for all individuals. Understanding the commonality and root of injuries are a large part in developing plans that implement injury prevention strategies. Many of these strategies include fixing weak areas, correcting musculature imbalances, implementing proper movement mechanics, and constant engagement of correct posture. Application of each of these during a strength training session can greatly enhance injury prevention.

Posture and movement mechanics are the two most noticeable in the gym. Of course, taking into consideration that bad movement mechanics is usually do to imbalances, weak and tight areas that do nothing but win over poor mobility. It is important the focus on the chronic injuries versus the acute. With that said, acute injuries again, can usually be prevented with the above strategies and if an injury were to occur absolute attention should be observed toward the healing process. Most feel a small pain and push through the workout, WRONG!  Chronic injuries usually entail that the above strategies are a constant, successive issue. Without correction, degeneration of motor sequencing and muscular tissue are certain to transpire.  Many common injuries happen out of ego and ignorance. Both of these can and should be avoided. Proper technique requires correct knowledge. Then the individual must have the mobility to execute the movement. If the mobility is limited, the individual must make corrections before continuing with an improper movement. This is usually skipped, creating poor movement patterns, which lead to imbalances. Use progression in every aspect of training!

Finding the Why of Your Training

The most important question that you should ask yourself when coming up with any training program (physical or other) is to answer the why question.  Why are you doing this type of training?  Is this the best use of your time?  What is the purpose of the training and what is the end state or when do I declare that the training is accomplished?  These are important questions to ask yourself before you start the training or even plan for it.  Whatever the answer to the why question, at a minimum you should have a training plan to execute the training properly.  If you don’t, then you will be haphazardly going through motions and never seeing measurable progress.  You are more likely to stop the training or train improperly and get injured or burned out.  


This week, renew your training program.  If you don't have a training program, it is time to develop one.  Make sure you have a quantifiable goal and write it down. Find the why in your training.  Make sure that you have a date set when you will accomplish the goal.  Develop a training plan that incorporates strength training (if you are developing a physical training plan) at least twice a week.  The rest of the week, you should be practicing events that are leading up to your goal.  If you don't have a goal, then find one that supports your passions and satisfies a higher purpose.  Doing "whatever you feel like doing" for the day leads to doing what you like and often times, this leads to overuse injuries or underdevelopment of your weak points.  

Take care of yourself so you don't become a liability to your fellow Spartan!

“Lean into it!”

Travis Williams and Dr. N

Feeling Your Present Presence

Feeling  Your Present Presence


Autism is an interesting condition.  Research suggests that the condition is the result of an overabundance of dopamine in the brain.  Dopamine stimulates your brain into action and helps you to focus on certain stimuli.  The problem is, when you have too much of it, you become overwhelmed with confusing inputs and you don’t know what to do.  Individuals with autism, depending on the severity of the condition, retract into themselves to block out all the confusion.  Speech becomes very difficult, perhaps because one’s own voice creates even more stimulation.  Your sense of smell and other senses become heightened and overloaded.  However, there is a silver lining to all of this.  A lesson that we can all learn and adapt to our own lives.  After living with my own autistic children for 20 plus years, I can make this observation and would like to share this theory with you.


The Future and the Past


Neurologically typical individuals have a sense of the past and the future.  Both situations cause us to produce cortisol, the stress hormone.  The interesting thing about this is that the future and past don’t matter because they are pure fantasy.  In reality, both don’t exist.  They are abstract concepts made up in our minds.  For example, last week perhaps you opened presents with your family.  Did you anticipate what the scene would look like before it happened?  Were you stressed in any way when you thought about guests coming over?  This is normal in the course of your day and helps you to action.  The problem is, when individuals dwell too long in the future or the past, they sacrifice their present presence.  Future events rarely turn out just the way we anticipate them; they are abstract concepts that, at times, plague us with stress and indecision.  Past events are OK if we don’t regret them but perhaps great event in the past, when compared to your present situation, can bring your grief and stress as well.  Living in the moment is the key to a happy and stress free life  


“…when individuals dwell too long in the future or the past, they sacrifice their present presence…”


Autism and the Present Moment


In my experience, my daughter does not understand about the past and the future.  The realization manifested itself to me when were at the Toy Store one day.  Playing with toys happens in the store.  When you ask her if you want her to take the toy home to play with it later, the concept is not understood at all.  Her brain seems to be only wired for present tense thinking.  The past does not exist, neither does the future.  A situation of no stress, which is both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing is that you are fully present in the moment, taking everything in and enjoying and being amazed by everything.  No stress.  The curse is that, if you stay in that state for too long, you get nothing done and you become self absorbed and tend to not interact with others, the main symptoms of Autism. 

Assignment for the Week:  Feeling Your Present Presence

Your present presence is very important.  It’s the way your mind, body and spirit interacts with the outside world.  Go to a quiet place and feel your body reaching out to everything around you.  The chair that you are sitting in.  The air around you.  The wind on your face.  The sound of the traffic in the distance.  Become in tune with all of those sounds and finally focus on your own breathing and see how your breathing interacts with all of the sensory input that you are feeling around you.  This is a deliberate exercise to get into the present moment.  As you can see, no stress is present in that moment.  It’s physiologically impossible for cortisol to be secreted when you are in your present presence.  However, staying in that moment will help you accomplish nothing for the day.  Know when to activate your present presence and when to turn it off.  You don’t need to be constantly doing something.  That should be your battle cry for the new year.  Take it from my daughter, it works.

Dr. N 


Change is a word and concept that has been used throughout the ages.  Many songs have been written about it; it has been used in science with the greek symbol “delta,” and even has been the recent center piece for campaign slogans.  Unfortunately, recent economic shifts and in certain cases climactic conditions have caused us to use the word even more than before.  But what exactly is change?  Do we resist it and loathe it or do we use it to our advantage? 

Characteristics of Change

The word change actually means to make or become different (in verb form) or the instance of becoming different in noun form.  Change can take many forms, such as the change in the seasons or the change of water from  solid to a liquid.  Change can be physical or psychological. Change can be internal or external, and can be both positive and negative. However, change is very dependent on one’s point of view, perspective, or even coping mechanism.  If we view the world in a negative light, then all change is for the most part bad.  If, however, we see the world through the eyes of the “glass is half full” lens or the even better "I am just happy to have a glass at all," then change becomes a challenge that we take on with hunger and drive.  We accept change for what it is and even embrace it, thriving in the adventure of it all.  Once again, gratitude rears its head, yet again, in the kernel that makes all change a good thing.     

Accepting Change is a choice that we make

We really have not choice in the matter.  Change will come.  And when it does, it’s our choice whether to accept it and look at the bright side, or wallow in self pity and remember the “glory days.”  The choice is predominantly yours to make.  Having the will to see change in a positive way is what differentiates us from animals that are predominantly driven by instinct.  Your prefrontal cortex helps you to adapt to changes and reprogram yourself to see change in a positive light.  However, as you probably suspect, this takes work on our part. 

Grow through change

My wife always says, “change is inevitable, growth is optional.”  That is so true.  The option to grow lies deep within our own souls.  In the place where FEAR (False Events Appearing Real) resides.  We may be able to put on a facade for most people, but the person in the mirror never lies to you.  To be able to truly embrace change is very, very difficult, but it can be done.  Viewing change as a challenge is the first step.  We all like or even love competition.  Don’t let change get the best of you.  Plan for it and be organized and ready to embrace it when it happens.  Visualize what it will be like after the change.  For example, if you are switching jobs soon actually attempt to put yourself in the shoes of the new job; anticipate what it will feel like.  This will moderate any negative effects that may come your way.  Finally, get out and exercise both your mind and your body.  A strong immune system is fairly resilient to change. a weak immune system will succumb to it.  

One final note on change.  Most of the time, change is a good thing.  When change does not take place in our lives, we become complacent and stagnant.  Complacency and stagnation can degrade your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual states.  That is why it is always good to “change things up a bit” in everything that you do; your diet, your workouts, your relationship with your spouse, the trips that you take with your kids, the route that you take when you go for a walk with your dog. 

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Speaking of your dog, the old saying is not true.  Aging people can learn new things and should.  Adapting a “child like” fascination when you get older will keep you young.  The term neuroplasticity is a fairly recent descriptor to our capacity of the human brain to adapt and learn new things, even as we age.  The fact is that our neurons NEVER stop changing and adapting.  This is both a good and a bad thing, and we need to understand why.  Our brain’s capacity to quickly learn new things also makes us vulnerable to traumatic events, bad habits, or mindless activities such as channel surfing or Facebook surfing.  Limiting these mindless activities will retain our capacities to learn new things and engage in meaningful activities with other people.  When you teach an old dog new tricks, make sure that the tricks are beneficial and stimulating and not destructive.  


Look at the routines in your life.  Look at ways that you can change things up a bit.  This will help you to deal with real change when it happens.  Think of it as training for the real thing.  When you learn to adapt to change on a weekly/daily basis, your brain becomes more pliable and when real change happens, you are conditioned for it and it does not affect you as much.  Do something completely different this week with your spouse or with your friends.  Don’t do the same old thing.  That same old thing is contributing to your complacency and neurological calcification.  

I hope that reading this article has brought you more in tune with change and how to deal with it.  Sometimes just thinking about things and communicating with someone alleviates some of the anxiety that we feel with change. 

Just remember that change is the one constant in our lives!

Dr. N

What's Old is New

What’s Old is New 

I have been surfing for 30 years now on and off, and the sport never gets old.  To paraphrase one of my favorite surf movies; surfing is a place where you lose yourself and find yourself, a true spiritual experience…We are lucky if we have passions such as surfing in our lives.  These can be anything, from cooking to photography to relationships with our significance others.  All of these passions require one thing in common.  They require work.  Without work, these passions soon become stagnant and eventually fade away into memories of what once was.  But what does “work” consist of?  What are the ingredients that we need to keep our passions alive and well, whether they are the passions that we sometimes call hobbies or the very threads of our friends and families?  The methodologies are the same.

Start with a goal

Do you want to become a better photographer this year?  A better dancer?  How do you define the term better?  Make sure that the goal that is associated with your passions passes the SMART test.  The goal needs to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.  What is it exactly that you want to accomplish with the relationship with your spouse this year?  Be specific.  How can you measure the improvements that you will make in your schoolwork this year?  Is getting a B average good enough for you?  Is becoming a world class surfer attainable for you this year?  Or should you make an incremental goal of competing at the professional level only in the State this year, and making plans to expand to the National level in three years?  Do you have the time and energy to dedicate yourself to opening your own business this year?  Set a realistic goal based on your own capabilities in the now.  Finally, what is your timeframe for completing this goal?  Should you have weekly meetings with your spouse to make sure you are reaching your short term goals of spending more time together in the hopes of rekindling a relationship that has been ravaged by work stress?  All of these SMART factors need to be in place for your goal to be real and not just a pipe dream.  Everything that you do should have a goal attached to it, including your work and personal passions.  If you don’t know where you are going, then how can you expect to stay motivated in what you are doing?  Feeling calcified or bored with what you are doing?  Set a goal using the above guidelines.

Hold Gratitude in Your Vision

Without gratitude, our passions can quickly turn into frustrations.  When we are frustrated with our own passions or are unable to partake as much as we want to in the things that we like to do, we grow resentful and often undermine the very things that we wish to practice.  Keeping a grateful mindset deflects any negativity that you may hold towards your passion.  For example, if you concentrate on the negatives of how you are not able to perform on the shooting range, you will not be able to shoot well the next time your go to the shooting range.  If, however, you decide to be grateful for the fact that you know how to shoot and that you are improving your dry fire techniques in order to maximize your time doing live fire, then you turn the negativity into a more positive outcome.  When you get frustrated with your spouse, remember why you got married in the first place and the first time you fell in love.  Be grateful for the fact that you have someone that loves you unconditionally and has been there for you through thick and thin.  Holding gratitude in the forefront of everything that you do will fuel your passion to higher levels than you ever thought imaginable.  

Try Something New

Rekindling and old relationship with something new breathes new life into passion and keeps your brain from becoming stagnant and calcified.  Making new pathways is possible, even with old relationships.  Back to surfing.  I recently decided to upgrade my surfing to a more high performance board that I was not sure if I was ready to ride.  At the advice of one of my more experienced surfing friends, I tried surfing on a shorter, wider, and more volumetric board than I had done in the past.  Although I loved to surf, I had become stagnant and set in my ways when it came to riding boards.  I hesitated to ride anything shorter than 10 feet in length (we are talking stand up paddle surfing here, so for those that are pure surfers I know that 10 feet seems long to you).  When I finally rode a board that was 9’5” I was blown away by the performance, stability, and my ability to pull some pretty radical maneuvers almost naturally (30 years of experience finally pays off!). Trying a new board was all it took to do that.  Rekindle your passion with something new.  Perhaps take a class that is related to your passion.  Read a book.  Go on a new vacation.  Cook a brand new recipe.  Whatever your passion is, try something new with it.  

It Takes Work

Lastly, work drives your passion to fruition.  We often think that passions just happen.  That is not the case.  Passion and work work in a circuitous way, where work drives passion and passion causes us to work.  The two concepts drive each other for the passion to be successful and rewarding.  Loving your spouse with all your heart takes work.  Period.  Becoming a great surfer or photographer or pick the hobby requires work.  Yes, the passion of a relationship will drive you to work hard; but, your passion alone will not help you through the down times when you don’t feel like putting the effort in because you are tired or distracted.  In those cases, hard work will drive you back into your passion and help you to succeed or get into a better position regarding your relationship.  


Make a list of the passions that you have this week.  What are some of the goals that you wish to accomplish for each of them?  Remember the SMART concept and apply it here.  Are you willing to put in the work that you need to succeed?  What kind of work are you willing to put into your relationships?  These, without a doubt, are the most important elements in your life and will help you to achieve other passions.  Remember to inject new elements into your passions to keep them interesting and fresh.  Are you willing to put in the work?  I think you are.

“Lean into it!”

Dr. N

The Edge

The Edge

In my experience and research, I have found that the phenomenon of stress is necessary for our survival.  Without stress, humans would not be able to live on the planet.  Stress motivates us to act; you would most likely not get out of bed in the morning if you did not have stress nagging at you go to get up.  In that respect, stress is a good thing.  Stress is also necessary for our survival in that, during life threatening situations, it activates our fight or flight response.  Think about the last time you reacted quickly and effectively in traffic to avoid a collision; this is the fight or flight response at full throttle.  We were designed and hard wired for this type of stress.  However, if left to its own devices, the same stress that can save your life can kill you if you allow stress to enter (and stay) in your life.  Everyone has their capacity of stress that they can deal with.  Building resilience in the form of effective coping mechanisms can not only allow you to deal with the stresses that you have, but able to take on more stress and make it through what others may consider insurmountable situations.  Just like anything else, this just requires the necessary training and application of that training to make a stand against the more chronic stresses.  The build up of these chronic stresses in our lives can leave us on the edge of a breakdown at any given time.  One seemingly innocuous stress may push us over the edge.  We can, however, build resilience by following some simple directions and mitigating the stresses that we can control.  

Stress as a Challenge

One of the firs steps in controlling those chronic stresses is changing the way you perceive or look at the stress.  Seeing the stress as a challenge or a game is the quickest and easiest way not to let the stress get the better of you.  When we see something as a challenge, we activate our competitive instincts and figure a way to vanquish or “win” against the stress.  This gives your brain something active to do instead of sitting down and feeling sorry for yourself and giving up.  Also, if you do this long enough, you won’t feel stress anymore and actually start to feel excitement instead.  You start to feel as though you can conquer anything that gets in your path; this becomes a habit that will surprise you; all you need to do is start practicing, and it doesn’t matter how small the stress is, just practice this new philosophy.  

Getting Organized

We are all bombarded by things that we need to get done.  These tasks can cause a huge amount of stress.  Getting (and staying) organized is one of the best ways to be in control of your stress.  Remember that stress comes from undecided tasks and not undone tasks.  When you place a task into an efficient system that works for you, then even tasks that are not done don’t pose a threat to you because you know, eventually, that you will get them done.  Organization also becomes a habit.  Once you get organized, you crave that organization.  You may have not linked being organized to stress until now.  We may not be able to control all of our stresses, but being organized is certainly something that we can control.  

Getting Physical

We are all physical beings.  We were designed to move around, explore and manipulate our environment for survival purposes.  Our bodies response to movement, and so does our stress response.  When we exercise, we release endorphins in our bodies which simultaneously reduce pain and increase sensations of pleasure.  Also, when you are in physical shape, you are able to take on more physical stress and sleep become more effective.  Eating the right food, or fueling your body, is an essential part of getting physical.  You are less resilient and more prone to diseases if you don’t fuel your body correctly.  

Helping Others

Another key ingredient in staving off stress and building resilience is helping other people.  However, this should not be at the expense of helping yourself first.  Remember when you are on a plane and the flight attendant says to put your oxygen mask on first before helping you child’s mask on?  Why do you think they tell you this?  Because you cannot help your child if you are passed out on the seat because of low oxygen.  Help yourself first and then help others.  I think that is where many people get it wrong.  When you take care of yourself first with the intention of being there for others, this is not a selfish act.  In fact, it is a smart thing to do because you won’t be around to help others if you don’t take care of yourself first.  The buzzword in recent years is compassion fatigue, often describing individuals whose job it is to take care of others.  I firmly believe that compassion fatigue would be diminished if these individuals had a firm regiment of self care BEFORE they took on the task of helping others.  Put on the mask first.    

Being Grateful

Being grateful is a hidden characteristic of being resilient and reducing your stress.  By being grateful, we take attention away from all the negatives in our lives and we focus on the positives.  No matter what negative things happen to use, there is always a way to find a positive spin and find gratitude.  When we see events from a positive perspective and feel gratitude, we open our minds to the perspective that things are not as bad as they first appear.  In many ways, gratitude is the first step in living in the present moment as we take everything around us into our consciousness; this happens specifically when we are engaged in nature.  There is nothing more awe striking as watching a sunrise or sunset on the ocean and being grateful for the fact that you have sight.  This is just one example of how gratitude can affect our consciousness level happiness and help us focus our minds on what truly matters in life.  


How full is your cup of stress.  Recognize that if your cup fills up too much with stress, you may be headings for a breakdown in your performance.  We all have our breaking points and we may be closer to the edge than we think.  Taking a good account of all of your stresses is the first step in taking control of them.  Write down all of the things that are stressing you out on the left hand side of a piece of paper.  On the right hand side write down what you are going to do about it or what the next step in dealing with this stress will be.  Remember that ultimately, you are in control of your own destiny.  You are the captain of your own ship and you control the speed, the steering, the engines; everything about the ship is your responsibility.  Whether you let yourself fall of the edge, or navigate your way safely around it, is entirely up to you.

“Lean into it!”

Dr. N

Distracted Living

Distracted Living

Recently, a gentleman pulled up next to me in a vehicle at a stop light and I noticed that he had one cell phone in each hand, texting away on both of them at the same time.  Make no mistake about it, he was driving and when the light turned green, he pulled away still holding both phones!  I am sure you have witnessed something similar (or worse) in your experiences, either driving or perhaps walking down the street.  People are more and more distracted as they navigate their ways through life.  We often want to blame technology; however, just like anything else, we need to look into our own minds and see what is going on before we blame an artificial product that should not have control over us.

 Smart Cell Phones

2007 was the year that changed everything.  In 2007, Apple launched the iPhone, a revolutionary communication device using touch screen technology and had access to the Internet, hold all your music, and could make a phone call.  When it first came out, iPhone only sold on the AT&T network and sold 1.39 units.  In 2015, iPhone sales were 200 times what they were in 2007.  And the competition from other manufacturers is clear, with all the major companies having an iPhone life device in the mix.  Needless to say, everyone has a smartphone now.  The consequences to our distraction is amazing.  People carry their phones with them, usually in their pockets.  Whenever a notification comes in, you either get a vibration in your pocket or a beep; this constant distraction activates our dopamine system in our brains and we are compelled to look at our phones.  How often does this happen to you in a day?  When this does happen, do you break contact with the person that you are with to answer the call or look at the notification?  Perhaps you look down for a second while driving?  Or worse, pick up the phone and start texting or responding to a notification?  Being distracted is not only dangerous while driving, but it also sends an important message to other people that are in the room with you, “my phone is more important than you are.”   Think about that the next time that you look at your phone in the presence of someone else.

 Television and Movies 

While television can be a useful device, it can take control of your life and, in a sense, be even worse than a smart phone.  The images that one sees on television can affect us, both consciously and subconsciously.  Have you ever felt tired after watching a long movie?  Movies are so realistic and sometimes fast paced that they can leave you physically and mentally exhausted.  I remember feeing adrenaline flowing through my body after I saw the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan for the first time in the theater.  I’ll never forget that experience.  Subject yourself to that too often and for too long, and your brain will start to flash back those images while you are going through your normal life.  Again, you will be distracted or get triggered by graphic memories of the recent movie of television show that you watched.  Remember that at the end of the day, we are tuned to see movement and focus in on it.  That is why television is so mesmerizing and addictive.  Our brains are drawn to keep watching, even though we may not even be that interested in what is going on.  The more movement the better; and our thoughts get hijacked as a result. 

Internet and Social Media

By having constant access to information at our finger tips, and having access to a network of thousands of our closest “friends” at all times, our brains are once again distracted by various software programs designed to keep us focused and staying online.  Social media programs such as Facebook make money by having us stay on their sites.  Getting and keeping our attention is their primary objective.  And they succeed at the expense of the real people around you.  Whether you are on a phone or compute is irrelevant.  The fact that you spend time on one of these sites, even it is in 10 second increments all day long, is helping accomplish the mission of these social media companies.  Remember that your brain does not multi-task.  That is a physiological impossibility.  You can only do one thing at a time.  While seemingly doing multiple things at once (checking a website or social media platform while talking with someone) you are rapidly switching back and forth and consequently burning energy in the process.  It’s no wonder that we are mentally exhausted at the end of the day.  Being distracted has a mental toll in that we burn energy every time we switch from one thing to another, and having readily available distractions at our finger tips does not help.


Years ago, we used to have Lay Aways at stores, where you choose a product, leave it at the store, and pay towards it for weeks and sometimes months before taking it home.  This was a form of delayed reward and taught us to wait and anticipate something in the future.  In today’s super fast paced world, the Lay Away concept has given way to getting Amazon to deliver your product the next day (I hear Amazon is working on speeding this up with drones soon)  and run up your credit card balance.  The speed the we do business is sometimes mind blowing.  I believe that this has had a direct effect on our personal lives.  We speed through conversations, dinner, phone calls, text messages, or any kind of activity that we engage in with others at the same speed that we expect Amazon to deliver our packages.  We have become habitually distracted  because we expect things to happen faster and faster, and what’s worse is that this is creating artificial stress when speed does not happen as we expect or want it to.  How often do you get to the end of the day and forget what you did at the beginning of the day?  Are the days blending together as you forget some of the important details and conversations that you had with the people that matter to you most?  That is the result of the distraction that occurred because you are going too fast. 


The most significant impact is that all these distractions have a direct effect on our thoughts.  When our thoughts are affected and swayed by technology, we are thrown into either the future or the past.  Our thoughts are taken away from the present moment, whether that present moment is simply driving a car, talking or spending time with your significant other or child, or observing a sunrise or sunset. Remember that our brains desire to be fully engaged.  Dopamine is what makes this possible.  We enjoy an engaging conversation or even an engaging thought process.  Unfortunately, this engagement mechanism can be manipulated.  Hijacking and controlling our thoughts is what advertising companies and now social media companies are designed to do, often without us even knowing it. What you think about is very important and can directly affect your physical health.  Don’t let technology distract you into a state of unhealthiness, or worse, unhappiness.  


What is your screen time this week?  My screen time on my cell phone last week was 1 hour and 32 minutes.  Unfortunately, I spend a long time on my computer because of my job; however, making a conscious effort not to spend time on my computer in the presence of others is my goal this week.  Make a similar goal for yourself.  Refrain from using technology while driving or while in the presence of other people.  Remember that what you watch on television or in the movies has a direct effect on your thoughts and can distract you from what is really important, the relationships that you have with other people.  Spend less time engaged with technology and instead engage with others around you, even if those people are strangers, waiting in line somewhere or in a doctor’s office, for example. Technology can be a useful tool if used wisely, and you can learn a lot from watching certain programming.  However, don’t let technology become such a distraction to you that you forget what is most important in your life.

“Lean into it!”

Dr. N