In ancient times, our ancestors had a difficult time traveling.  By horseback, by foot, cold or hot exposed to the elements, hungry, tired;  has our traveling really changed that much?  The stresses of traveling have changed, but we purport that they have gotten worse.  

Stress in the form of constant airplane noise, schedules that change, deadlines to meet, the phone that rings right before they close the airplane door...These are the stresses that we were not designed to endure.  These are the stresses, that is left unchecked, will destroy you and your happiness.  


There are many articles pertaining to tips while traveling and what to do, but learning from history may be the most important thing that we do, especially when we talk about stress and resilience. 


Today's travel is nothing like that of the past. From cars, buses, planes, and boats-all of which have little to do with the body being the required power source. 

Here are ten tips for the modern day traveler, keeping the ancient Spartans in mind as an example: 

1: Positions of Resilience.

We must keep in mind at all times during travels that the body craves a position of resilience; a finely tuned instrument that can be as sharp as a razor or soft as jello, usually depending on what and how we treat it.  So we must think about positions of resilience.  This sets us up for all the following tips.  A position of resilience means that you are ready for action and treat your mind and your body like a finely tuned instrument, ready for combat at any moment.  Think about it; the Spartans likely did the same.  

2. Plan ahead.

Think of trip as a mission. Proper reconnaissance using the number one source the Internet can help create the perfect operating plan and gather all necessary assets such as nearby gyms, hotel facilities, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. Utilize resources to your advantage. Along with planning, we need to examine time management.

3. Proper Time Management. 

Time management and being organized will give you the mental resilience necessary to be more creative and enjoy your life, instead of using your brain as a storage device.  Time management will also help you with number 4.  

4. Manage Your Stress.

"Don't sweat the small stuff."  Have patience.  If something is not going as planned; adjust accordingly in a positive manner. Do not let it stress you, which will only bring about negative thoughts and a drop in motivation. View stress as a challenge and listen to your body.  Remember that Spartans trained daily in warfare and were razor sharp when it came to understanding themselves and their enemy.  Your enemy is stress.  

5. Be meticulous! 

We all have choices, especially when it comes to fueling our body. Think of healthy, small travel foods, limiting the chain stops, and eat out to your standards. Most restaurants will bring the food just as you ask. Grilled, sauces on the side, smaller portion etc; all you have to do is ask.

6. Move.  

Try to take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Take every chance to encourage yourself to take the harder road physically.  So remember to move, a lot.  Especially if you are going to be sitting for long periods of time, which is what humans do when they travel.  That means getting up on a plane (when they turn off the seat belt light of course), stopping more frequently when you are driving and doing some walking lunges and push ups, etc.  Get creative.  Remember to move, period.  

7 and 8 Creativity and Take 15.

We can always spare fifteen minutes to do something of choice, which should entail movement. Taking 15 minutes to get creative with moving around to generate a spike in homeostasis energizes and arouses mobility. Many body movements can be performed to get a sweat on for a short 15-minute bout requiring no equipment other than space. This generates the stimulation needed to maintain current fitness levels and continue with forward progression during time away from the place of comfort. Traveling can be taxing on the body and the mind.

9 Sleep.

Sleep is the most important activity that you will do while you travel.  We don't know for sure, but we suspect that ancient people slept longer than we do because of the lack of electricity and constant stimulation by iPhones or computer of choice.  The brain requires 6-10 hours of sleep for optimal functioning levels and cognitive functioning.  

10 Hydrate.

Yes, it sounds very simple. The Spartan would have to carry his water and hope not to run out.  Proper hydration is day in and day out and is critical for optimal levels of body functions and performance.  Keep H2O on hand and take a shot or two every 15 minutes thirsty or not.  So, to review the 10 tips of Spartan travels:

  1. Be Resilient
  2. Plan ahead
  3. Time management
  4. Stress Management
  5. Be meticulous
  6. Movement
  7. Creativity
  8. "Take 15"
  9. Sleep
  10. Hydrate

Travis Williams is a physical resilience consultant for Human Performance Consulting LLC.  Always consult a physician before engaging in any kind of physical activity.  

Facing Your Flames Head On


Facing Your Flames Head On

I have had the privilege of training firefighters over the years and, many years ago, I had the honor of participating in a controlled burn with the Pittsburgh Fire Department.  During that training, I realized the magnitude and danger of fighting a fire.  Smoke, heat, fatigue, confusion, disorientation, fear and fire; all these elements and more go into what firefighters do on a daily basis.  When I entered the building that was on fire in Pittsburgh that day, I had very little fire fighting training but I entered as an observer only, even though I did pick up the hose and help out a bit.  The sights, sounds, and smells of that day burned (no pun intended) into my memories and clearly there was some lessons to be learned that day.  The teamwork, camaraderie and training that all went into the orchestration of fighting that fire was impressive.  The way that fire fighters attack a fire is something that we can all learn from in our everyday lives.  We need to face our flames head on in order to accomplish our missions. 



When you are in a burning building, you must become hyper aware of both your surroundings and what is going on inside your body and mind.  One misstep could lead to a dangerous situation and one miscalculation of your own abilities, or of your own air tank on your back, could put you and your team in danger.  In life, we need to become more self aware of our own emotions and what works inside of us.  This includes what we need both physically and mentally to accomplish whatever mission we are working to accomplish.  When you stop and self reflect, you change your way of thinking from reactive to proactive and you better take control of yourself and more positively affect the outcome of your life.  

Control Your Fear

In order to do anything that is worthwhile in life, we need to control our fear.  By facing our demons and proactively working through or around obstacles, we begin to see that we have more control over our fear than we initially thought.  Facing our flames head on involves feeling the fear, but going into the fire anyway.  I remember feeling apprehension before entering that burning building; I had never done it before and did not know what to expect.  Feeling fear is 100% human.  Fear and apprehension keeps us alive; however, if you let fear control you, you will never set foot into a fire.  Ever.  


A certain level of training is necessary for fire fighting, and for anything that you do in life for that matter.  Training is an integral part of everything that we do. Remember that I had had a certain level of firefighting training, and my mind and body were used to being in dangerous situations from other hazardous training events that I had been though in the military.   Training builds self-confidence and gives you a feeling of “I can do this” no matter what happens.  This self confidence can lead to arrogance if you don’t apply the first principle of this article, self-reflection.  Training must be challenging but not too challenging, so that you can progressively learn from incremental challenges.  Without training, we can’t expect to enter a burning building and face our flames.


Before entering the burning building, the Pittsburgh Fire Fighters explained to me the sequence of events during the controlled burn, what I should expect, and where I should place myself so that I could both help and stay away from danger.  Visualizing a positive outcome to your training, and doing an in depth rehearsal can increase the chances that you will succeed when you enter a burning building.  The chances of a positive outcome to any situation or event can be increased by visualization.  Close your eyes and see yourself performing the necessary steps in the activity, or see yourself communicating effectively during a speech, or imagine yourself making the sale during your next sales call; chances are that your success will go up as a result of visualization.  You can’t expect to make it through a fire unless you visualize yourself making it through the fire.


It goes without saying, I would never have stepped into that building without the help, mentoring, and support of the Pittsburgh Fire Fighters.  When I entered the building, there were fire fighters on the roof with axes, making holes in the roof so smoke could escape out of the building and not hinder our vision inside.  There were Fire Fighters going down the stairs with axes in front of them, pounding on the stairs so they would not fall through by accident.  Outside the building, a myriad of personnel, trucks, and police officers maintained a perimeter and were the command and control for the entire operation.  The team that was amassed to deal with that fire that day was immense.  A well oiled machine that was happy to be there, doing what it was trained to do.  When you face anything in life, you need to have people that you can count on.  Individuals that have been trained like you and speak the same mental language.  Individuals that will bring you down and speak negatively about you or what you are about to accomplish should be left behind.  Individuals that will offer criticism from a place of improvement and will be there for you when the chips are down are welcome to come along.  Facing your flames head on should be the battle cry for your entire team, and they should be behind you in case you stumble and need help carrying the hose.  


This week, think of something in your life that you need to face, head on.  Perhaps it is something to do with your job or perhaps a confrontation with an old friend that you need to patch up?  Maybe you have something that you would like to do that you have never done before and are apprehensive or scared of doing?  Apply the principles of this article, like a checklist, to the problem.  Do you have the right team to help you out?  Have you trained enough for this particular event?  What type of outcome can you visualize?  Is it time to face your fear head on?  Have you done the right amount of self-reflection necessary to achieve your mission?  Remember that we can do anything in life with the proper application of our mind and body.  Facing your flames head on is something that we should enjoy doing on a daily basis.


“Lean into it!”

Dr. N

One Race

One Race

I recently had to fill out some medical paperwork for a new doctor’s visit.  They asked for the standard information; name, address, name in case of emergency.  I filled out the form as I always do; then I stopped at a block that caught my attention, race.  I have always been sensitive to this topic that separates humans by their background and even culture.  The interesting phenomenon is that from a scientific standpoint, the multiple race question makes as much sense as the world is flat question.


100% Identical, or close enough

The science does not lie.  Every human being on the planet is over 99% genetically identical to any other human being.  The human genome project, that began in 1990 and was designed to map the 3.2 billion base pairs of the human genome, was a success and the work was completed years ago.  The results are very complicated and immersed in biological jargon, but the takeaway for this psychologist is very simple: we are all, virtually the same.  When you make a 99% on a test, what do you tell your friends and yourself that you made?  Exactly.  Since we are all the same genetically, then where, and more importantly why, does race enter into the equation.



I wrote about the Power of Belonging on 3.25.18.  I reviewed why people have an emotional need to bond together that spawns from a deep evolutionary need for survival.  Perhaps when people look the same, which does happen through genetic mutation and adaptation to certain environments, this facilitates that feeling of belonging to a certain group.  I fully understand why individuals would do that, and I even understand why individuals would shun others from outside the group in order to better their own chances of survival.  However, the Earth is no longer flat, people.  The times have changed now.  We need to change with those times.


The Earth is Round

Years ago, I trained Special Operators from Cameroon.  This was a French only class so I bonded quite a bit with the guys and sometimes we discussed topics that were not relevant to what I was teaching at the time.  I remember one of the more senior members asking me about the science behind why the world was round, and not flat.  At this moment, I realized that not everyone has the same education and that we need to be more aware of this as we try and push agendas or make assumptions.  Race is a world is round topic; however, not everyone understands the Human Genome and its enormous implications about how we are all virtually genetically identical.  


Challenging our Thoughts

The answer to the race question on the doctor’s form; human.  From genetic and anthropological evidence, around 60,000 years ago, modern humans (a couple of thousand or so) left Eastern Africa and traveled into the Middle East, and spread all over the world fairly quickly.  That means that even though we don’t all look alike (because of genetic mutations taking place over thousands of years and individuals “settling down” into one geographic area), everyone on the planet is related to the initial several thousand humans that migrated North out of Africa.  The world is no longer flat; we need to drop the race thing and unify under one race, the only race that has existed tens of thousands of years.  From a psychological point of view, this would solve many issues that we have in the world.  Remember, we are all 99% (or more) genetically related.



Try and see people this week through the lens of the human genome.  Do you treat your close friends and family different than total strangers?  How do you feel about your enemies now that you can see scientific evidence that you are related genetically to them?  These are tough questions that may remain unanswered, or they are questions that may lead to a better tomorrow.  For now, remember to try and understand others and look at the differently this week; furthermore, realize that somewhere down the ancestral line we are all related.

“Lean into it!”

Dr. Ed Naggiar





Training in the Heat of the Summer

Training in the Heat of the Summer 


Summer is here (almost)!  With extreme temperatures and humidity, it is important to take a minute and recognize what this means to the body during training.

Extreme temperatures, hot or cold, have absolute influences on the body, especially during training of elevated intensity levels. "During exercise in the heat, skin competes with the active muscles for more of the limited cardiac output. A well-orchestrated series of cardiovascular adjustments takes place to shunt blood away from nonessential regions to the skin to aid in heat dissipation" (Wilmore, Costill, & Kenney, 2008, p. 263).


The physiology behind body temperature regulation is quite extensive. The extreme temperatures of summer in combination with your training will challenge the body's thermoregulation (body temperature regulation). There is great significance in understanding the big picture.  The body uses several mechanisms to cool: conduction, convection, radiation, and evaporation. It is not critical to know the physiology behind each of these, but appreciating how the surrounding environment affects each sheds some light on just how hard the body works during elevated temperatures and how critically important it is to properly hydrate.


Conduction is simply object-to-object touching.  Convection is done with gas or liquid movement.  Radiation is heat given off seen as infrared rays.  Evaporation cools by converting liquid to vapor. Evaporation is the primary means of cooling during exercise. As the surrounding temperature reaches or exceeds that of the skin temperature evaporation is the only mechanism to provide cooling. This is also where humidity falls into play. Usually extreme heat links high humidity. This can hamper the effects of evaporation due to the water vapor pressure in the air. The sweat must evaporate while on the skin to expend body heat. Dripping or wiping sweat away is a waste of cooling product. With high humidity, the air already holds a substantial amount of water molecules making it more resistant to accept further vapor. During these environmental factors, the body is at greater risk of heat related illness and or dehydration.


According to Wilmore, Costill, and Kenny (2008), "Exercise in the heat becomes limited when heart rate approaches maximum, especially in untrained or non-heat-acclimated exercisers"(p.261).  Several heat related disorders are heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (extremely life threatening). Any signs such as nausea, chills, headache, fatigue, large muscles cramps and excessive thirst are all institutes the possibility of these and should not be taken lightly. Any signs should cease all training and seek proper care.   


Proper hydration is not just at training times, it is an all day event.  Across the fitness industry, the term hydrate is very prevalent. Many people set out for hours before the feeling of being thirsty transpires. Though it may seem as simple as squeezing a water bottle to the mouth, many neglect to do so until it is too late.


What happens when a person fails to maintain a steady and appropriate quantity of water? The result is inception of the bodily condition known as dehydration. Many bodily functions rely on maintaining proper hydration, the water balance in the body. Dehydration has direct effect on many of these functions. Dehydration can progress, to drying out body tissues and the cells. Dehydration also often goes together with deficiency of electrolytes, in particular sodium and potassium.


The most susceptible cells to dehydration are the brain cells. Mental confusion is another one of the most common signs of severe dehydration. Dehydration is a condition that needs to be monitored and avoided by all means necessary. Water and electrolytes are necessary to counter this condition. When electrolytes concentration decreases, water does not move as quickly from the reservoir inside of the cells and into the blood.


The fluid compartments of the body, such as the cells, space around the cells and blood must not vary too much in order to function efficiently. Proper water levels help transport necessary the nutrients and waste products in and out of cells. The importance of the balance of these two components within the body is necessary for optimal performance. Hydration of the body is maintaining a proper volume of fluid and a correct balance of water and electrolytes. Water plus a sports drink is most favorable for this goal, however, sports drinks must be limited to right before, during, and/or directly after training sessions. Optimal performance of the body can be obtained by simply providing the body with the appropriate amount of water. Countering known conditions causing dehydration results in an improved effect of bodily functions and performance. Many life supporting functions are directly affected by proper hydration. H2O is the way to go. Even for the hardest Spartan, water truly is, the fountain of life.


"Lean into it!"



The Easy Way Out

The Easy Way Out

Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, known as BUD/S, is a six month (minimum) crucible where warriors are forged from a series of physical and psychological tests that eliminate 7 out of every 10 individuals that attempt to make it through the gauntlet.  To make it through, one has to have physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual fortitude, or what I like to call resilience.  Slogans such as; pay now or pay later, the only easy day was yesterday, and it pays to be a winner, are common fare at BUD/S.  In short, there is no easy way out of the training, unless you want to quit or fake an injury.  To make it through SEAL Training, or anything that is worthwhile in life, you need vision, discipline, and work. 



Without vision, we are blind.  This applies to both the physical as well as the psychological.  Our vision gives us the clarity to see the world the way it manifests itself to us.  Vision gives us the ability to see what is coming towards us, and gives us the chance to adjust our strategy to adapt to the future.  Clarity of vision puts us in a position to succeed in the future.  Vision gives us the time to plan and anticipate what the future will bring us.  With the proper vision, we can “see” ourselves in a better position.  Some have called this “playing the tape out” and visualizing what the future will bring.  For good or bad outcomes, vision helps us to adjust present situations to affect the future.  The incredible thing about vision is that we have the power to see the future.  By having the correct vision about yourself, you can actually affect future events simply by willing them into existence.  This is called a self fulfilling prophecy and can be a good thing as well as a bad thing, depending on what you visualize.


Discipline is the glue that holds humans accountable to each other.  When you have discipline, you are essentially making a promise to yourself to properly execute your vision.  The concept of discipline is forged in military operations and steadfast individuals who make it through difficult courses of training like college and trade school.  When people are disciplined, they hold themselves accountable to their vision and don’t falter from it.  They stay the course no matter what happens, and if they have to adjust their vision they do it in a methodical manner that involves a concept known as critical thinking.  Critical thinking is a part of discipline where you analyze your thought process and find out what is the most effective way to solve a problem.  Having the discipline to continue with a project must be coupled with the discipline to know when to adjust your aim and regroup.  This is also called resilience.  Discipline without resilience is wasted energy and often times leads to disappointing end results.  Vision and discipline go hand in hand to create a targeted approach to achieving your mission.



Accomplishing anything worthwhile requires effort.  This scares many people.  You must go against the grain and against the path of least resistance if you want to succeed at anything.  This applies to both SEAL training and life in general.  The path of least resilience leads to complacency, laziness, and ultimate failure.  Hard work  that has been harnessed by proper vision and discipline will yield incredible results, both external and internal.  External results are obvious.  A safe place to live, food, and the tools and amenities that we need to survive and thrive are all part of the external results.  Internal results are much more powerful.  They include things like the internal satisfaction of doing a great job or helping someone who needs help.  These are the internal, or intrinsic rewards of work that go far beyond the external rewards.  That’s not to say that we don’t need external rewards.  But external rewards without internal rewards lead to an empty existence filled with material possessions and an unfulfilled life.  Concentrate only on money and you may get rich, but you will not be happy.  Targeted hard work pays off in the long run.  Getting through BUD/S took a lot of hard work to get through all the physical and mental tests, harassment, and pitfalls that filled the journey.  But remember that getting through life requires more than just hard work.  Work needs to be tampered with discipline and vision to properly be effective.  The three concepts must work in concert with one another for the process of success and happiness to come together.  



This week, don’t take the easy way out.  If you have a choice between taking and elevator and the stairs, take the stairs.  When you park your car, find the furthest parking space that you can find and walk.  Take a cold shower.  Walk that extra mile at night even though you don’t want to and are tired.  Take a look at your work.  Do you have the necessary vision and discipline to be successful?  If not, then work on holding your self accountable for your actions (discipline) and looking into the future to see where you want to end up (vision).  Hard work without vision and discipline can wear you down and lead you down a path of burnout.  Above all, understand that you are human and that you will make mistakes.  Mistakes are part of the deal; how you recover from them and move out is what really matters.  


Dr. N

Set Points

Set Points


Have you ever looked at something in your life and thought that it was an impossible challenge.  Has anyone ever told you that the way you want to do something is “not the way we do things around here?”  In both cases, you are dealing with a set point.  A set point is an established way of doing something that stops you from doing something new.  It may be a physical set point, like doing a certain physical exercise, or a psychological set point, like how you perceive yourself (I am not good at math).  Let’s examine some of our set points and figure out how we can push them or change them.


Physical Set Points


I was never good at sports.  As a child, I mostly played video games and watched TV; I was never that physical.  I remember my friends being really good at Football, and even making the paper (we didn’t have the Internet back then) with their pictures in it making an incredible play.  I was the chubby nerd who shopped in the Husky section of K-Mart.  That was my set point for a long time.  One day, I decided that I was going to join the military, and everything changed.  A couple of years later, I decided that I was going to become a SEAL, and things changed even more.  The years leading up to SEAL Training were the hardest for me, because not only did I have to train myself out of my childhood set points, but I had to teach myself new techniques like how to swim (actually a friendly female lifeguard taught me) and how to become stronger at pull-ups.  Dealing with your physical set points can be a challenge, but the rewards and benefits that you gain from changing them can, literally, be life changing.


Psychological Set Points


These set points are the most powerful ones and hardest to change.  Since you were born, you have learned ways of doing things that have programmed your set points.  Self perceptions stem from the actions and words from influential individuals early in life, and from every experience that you have had.  These experiences, actions and words are very powerful as they influence our set points; but they also influence how we can change these set points.  Every time we succeed or fail at something, we file away a code in our brains.  When we succeed at something difficult, our set points shift a little to more challenging positions.  However, if we seldom fail, our set points are never challenged and when we eventually do fail, our set points can be crushed for a long, long time.  We all have the power to change our set points, or keep them fluid, we just need to know how to do this.   Knowing that we have the power to change our set points is the first step in changing them. 


Happiness Set Points


We also have happiness set points.  From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that most of us are biologically set to be less then optimally happy.  Again, knowing this is the first step in changing our happiness set points.  By changing the types of activities that we do (more human and other focused and less material and me focused), we can affect our overall happiness despite our initial happiness set points.  In the next section, we will look at the ways that we can practically and immediately change our set points to keep them in check, or use them to our advantage.  



Changing Our Set Points


Changing our set points requires a decision, effort (planning and execution), and courage.   Set points cannot change with the will and a decision to make the change.  When we are set in our ways and happy about it, perhaps change is not required.  However, I will say that as we get older, change is actually beneficial to our brains because our dopamine receptors degrade as we age, and change will activate those receptors and keep us younger.  So if you are older, learn something new or push your current set point beyond comfort.  You will immediately reap the benefits.   


Nothing can happen without proper planning and execution.  Planning involves learning and training, and execution involves getting off your connection to the earth and moving out in the direction of your new mission!  Once you properly plan and execute your new mission, you won’t recognize our old set point or you will look at it with memorable laughter at a “that’s what I used to do.” 


The final requirement for a successful set point shift is courage.  Both the courage to overcome your fears of failure and your fears of success.  Fears of failure are pretty straightforward.  When you push your set point, you could fail.  But learning from our failure and modifying your execution for the next time is what differentiates people who ultimately succeed and people who ultimately fail.  Fear of success comes when we perceive that our set point shifts could alienate those that are used to our old set points.  However, people who do not like our new set points may not have our own best interests at heart.  Maybe it’s time for you to find new friends.  


In the end, changing your set point, depending on the set point, can be very challenging.  But with the proper application of a decision, effort, and courage, anything can be done.


Remember that failure is always a possibility, never an option.  




Look at your current set points in your life.  Do you want to change any of them?  Challenge your set points.  Even if you can’t or don’t want to change them, it’s always good to review them.  Chances are, you can change some of them.  If you can, and make the decision to change, then plan and execute the right way to go about changing the set point.  Determine what obstacles, in the form of fear, stand in your way.  Muster the courage to accept failure as a possibility but not an option and drive on.  


“Lean into it!”

Dr. N


The Calm At The End of the Storm

The Calm At The End of the Storm

This past weekend, six paddlers got together un Panama City, Florida to paddle 32 miles to raise awareness and money for kids with Autism.  This is the third year that we do this, and every year the paddle is challenging.  This year was no different.  The reason that it is challenging is that it is an out and back course.  Most races of that distance, use tides, currents, and the wind in there favor.  The Molokai to Oahu race is 32 ocean miles, but you are surfing on waves the whole way and you have the wind mostly at your back, creating a pushing effect.  The Panama City race has wind, waves, and takes you from bay water to ocean water and back; the wind that is at your back one way will be in your face when you reverse directions at the halfway point.  In three years running, the course has never been vanquished by all individuals who have started the race.  This year was no exception.

The Reverse and Lightening

Nothing can shorten your race, and your life, as much as lightening.  This year, we had to pull paddlers after 6 miles and place them on a “mother ship” for safety, and the call was made to attempt to beat the thunderstorm line by running everyone to the halfway point.  The wind was in our faces for the entire 6 mile beginnings stage, and we felt that by placing the paddlers at the halfway point, we would be able to go downwind at a fast pace and beat the weather.   Initially, our downwind leg began without drama, with the exception of the 6 foot runners that we blowing in from the Gulf.  What happened after about half an hour of paddling gave us all a reason to smile and laugh, and realize why we were out here in the first place.  It took 10 minutes for the wind to completely reverse direction, and now the wind was in our face again, and it was a strong wind.  In some cases, paddlers that stopped paddling would be blown backwards instead of forward, which is not a good situation when you are trying to finish a race.  

The Silver Lining

The paddlers in my boat were veterans of the race, and they all commented that every year, no matter which date we choose or month, the conditions are always challenging, which brought us all to why we do this race in the first place.  The race is about raising awareness for Autism, April is Autism awareness month, and inevitably parents with children with Autism ask the question, why?  For us, the challenge of the race directly translates into the challenges that take place when raising a child with Autism.  The race further exemplifies this because it takes a team of individuals to finish a race of this magnitude, just as it takes a team of individuals to raise a child with autism.  The parallels are clear.  But wait, there is more.  Every year we have done the race, right before the end, the conditions get better.  This divine intervention is not a coincidence, brought to my attention this year by another veteran paddler who has done this race three years in a row.  The sign is this: at the end of the hard work, trials and tribulations, failures and challenges, exists a silver lining where we accept the current situation as perfect in its own way.  No matter how hard you think you have it, if you work together with others and devote yourself to something that is more than yourself, you will succeed and be happy.  No matter what happens along the way.   


This week, think of something that is challenging to you.  How do you overcome this challenge?  Do you hesitate to ask for help?  If so, why?  Helping others is a part of who we are as human beings.  Let others help you and help others.  That is the key to happiness and success.  One of the biggest takeaways from this Paddle Race for Autism is that we all should help each other to better both the world around us and ourselves.  Go out of your way to help others this week, but more importantly, allow others to help you as well.  Helping is a two way street. 

“Lean into it!”

Dr. Ed Naggiar

Lessons From Dogs

Man’s Best Friend

Sometimes the biggest lessons can be learned from the least obvious places.  We all have people that we look up to for guidance and direction.  In my life, I have had the privilege and blessing of loving parents, teachers, and other influential people to guide me in my quest for purpose and meaning. I don’t think anyone can argue about the lessons that we learn from humanity’s oldest companion, our dogs.  


Unconditional Love


I have had numerous dogs in my life, but my latest addition is a 10 pound Cotton De Tulear who, if you don’t know her, is a little dog with a big personality.  Her name is Tilly and she loves to go for walks, ride in boats, swim in the ocean, ride on surf boards and paddle boards, and hang out with human and canine friends alike.  Tilly does not have an evil bone in her body and is the embodiment of unconditional love.  Sure, she loves my wife the best, but she is quick to flip on her back for anyone that will give her a belly rub.  Most dogs will do the same, with the right combination of genetics and training.  We can learn from a dog’s ability to love unconditionally.  




For this other characteristic, I would like to introduce you to a dog that is no longer with us, a 100 pound Great Pyrenees that used to live with us, Edou.  My family decided to name the dog using my childhood name, which was fine with me.  This was a name reversal from the popular movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the character Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, was named Indiana after the family dog.  Edou had the uncanny ability to persevere like no other dog I had even met.   At 12 weeks old, he was bitten through the snout by a vicious dog, a bite that would eventually lead to one of his canines not coming in at all from nerve damage from the bite.  Later in life, Edou almost had to get his toes amputated from a really bad infection in his foot.  Walking 3 miles a day, I did not even detect a problem until a visit to the groomers revealed that he was in fact seriously injured.  Other dogs, or humans for that matter, would have shown signs of trouble: visible limps, complaining, etc.  This dog did not even so much as skip a beat in what may have cost him his toes, or worse.  In the end, Edou died from cancer at 12 years old, which is a long time for a large breed dog.  He was perseverant all the way to the end, not wanting to let anyone of us down.  


Making Others Feel Good


Tilly has a way of making people feel good.  She brings joy into our lives by chasing her tail, jumping up to give you a lick in the face (you have to bend over for her to do this because she is barely 12 inches tall), and simply sitting next to you while you relax on the couch.  The bottom line is that people may forget about what you said, even what you did in life, but they will never forget the way you made them feel.  Dogs, more so than humans, because of their limited communication abilities, have a powerful impact on our feelings.  That is why dogs have been able to exist with us for 55, 000 years.  Not only have they been able to help us in hunting and protecting us when we sleep, but they also have made us feel good.  




Dogs have certain characteristics that we can all learn from.  The three that I outlined in this post are only a few.  Think about other characteristics that we can learn from our dogs this week and apply them in your everyday life.  What can our dogs teach us that we can immediately apply to others?  Can we learn to love others unconditionally?  Perhaps we can break down racial, cultural, and other learned stereotypes from our past?  Remember that dogs do not see humans as different, unless they are trained to do so.  Perhaps this may be the biggest lesson that we can learn from our furry friends?


“Lean into it!”

Dr. N

The Power of Belonging

The Power of Belonging


I was born in Milan, moved to the U.S. when I was 6, spoke French as my first language, and grew up in a predominantly Lebanese culture with English, Arabic, German, Italian, and French often spoken at the same time during family gatherings.  When people ask me where I am from or what nationality I belong to, I tell them the human and I really mean it.  All of these issues with race and culture fascinate me; but I can see why individuals want to belong to something; it actually makes psychological sense; but, just like everything else in life, when we take belonging to the extreme, we get ourselves in trouble.


Hunting and Gathering


Humans have banded together in bands, tribes, and nations for economic, social and political advantage from the beginning of recorded history.  We don’t even require studying history to see how modern hunters and gathering society (yes there are a few left) depend on each other for survival, as well as higher level psychological needs.  It’s fair to say that a sole hunter and gatherer would not survive as well alone.  Even if that individual would survive well by themselves, they would not have the psychological interaction that we all need in order to be psychologically happy.  We are all connected emotionally; it’s what gives humans their strength.


The Advantages of Modern Society


In our modern society, we can clearly see that we have certain advantages.  We have information at our finger tips, the ability to easily travel safely (relatively) to anywhere we wish, and the power to provide for our families in unique ways that help our society progress.  Because of our ability to provide food in a mass produced fashion, individuals in our modern society can specialize and do different jobs that expand our knowledge base and contribute to our advancement as a species.   The advances I am talking about are advances in knowledge that will help us to bridge the gaps between race, religion, and any other obstacle that divides us as a species.  Our ability and craving to belong contributes in a positive fashion in these circumstances; we all come together in times of need and disaster, helping each other when we need it the most (911 and the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, where almost 300,000 people lost their lives).  


The Disadvantages of our Modern Society


This knowledge and technology does have a dark side, however.  Our sense of belonging drives us to our social media accounts where we can get lost in a virtual world, taking us away from genuine human connections.  These distractions often make us feel more alone than we would be if we really were alone.  Inflated stories of happiness from our friends drive us away from our real relationships, in search of something that we may never attain, perfect happiness.  We need to recognize that our drive to belong may backfire in these situations, and adapt a more “hunting and gathering” lifestyle, at least when it comes to belonging.

Real Connections and the Road to Belonging


As much as I enjoy technology just like the next person, one has to realize movement away from belonging that our technology can bring.  How much real human interaction do you have compared to how much technology induced interaction? If you have more hours spent with real interactions than technology induced ones, then you are on a positive road to belonging and psychological health.  I believe that this may be a large reason why we have so many individuals that suffer from disillusionment in our modern society.  The lack of human interactions is causing us to become less human.  I remember as a kid visiting the big cities of New York and London.  I also remember that individuals in those cities, surrounded by concrete and steel and bombarded by stress induced by technology, would behave differently than individuals in the smaller cities.  In today’s society, our brains are hacked by modern social media systems like Facebook and Youtube.  Brain hacking is a real phenomenon that works for the advantage of those that profit from having us online, and away from real human interaction.


Summary and Assignment


We can see where our deep sense of belonging and emotional attachment as humans can be a great advantage to us all.  This sense of belonging helps us in times of stress.  We reach out to each other and band together for survival.  At times, this sense of belonging can be negative, such as when we band together to divide our race or culture to put others down.  Our sense of belonging can make us vulnerable to social media, where we are drawn away from real, face to face connections and into a world that wants to keep our brains hacked to make a profit.  This week, make a list of hours of real human interactions, time spent truly alone, and times spent on a device of any kind where you interact using social media.  What did you come up with?  Hopefully, reading this article gives you a sense of where you stand in the circle of belonging, and how this sense can both be an advantage if used correctly and a disadvantage if not managed properly.


“Lean into it!”

Dr. N

Finding Your Happy Place

Finding Your Happy Place


Everyone has a happy place.  Most of the working class get to work very hard during the week, making sacrifices along the way, only to reap the benefits of a well deserved weekend.  Songs are written about it.  Songs like  “9 to 5” and “Working for the Weekend” epitomize what we all strive to do.  Work during the week so we can find our happy places and relax during the weekend.  The secret to being truly happy and relaxed, however, is to be happy during the tough times and challenging times.  When you can find your happy place there, then you don’t need to wait for the weekend, or for the next vacation, or for whatever you are waiting for to make you happy.


What Makes Us Happy?


What do you think is the key to being happy?  Do you think it is that sought after job that you are shooting for?  Perhaps that new SUV that is just on the horizon?  Maybe it’s that elusive relationship that you are craving to enter into?  All these things may bring your fleeting contentment, but true happiness comes from one thing, happiness.  Being happy is the key to happiness.  Living 100% out of your thoughts is a great first step to happiness.  Free your mind of anticipation or regret and you enter a grateful and awe fused state in the present moment.  You take in things around you for what they are; nothing more, nothing less. Clearing your mind of thoughts takes practice; focus on the world around you and take in the beauty.  


Your Happy Place


That’s how you find your happy place.  I find mine when I Stand Up Paddle before the sun comes up.  I let myself feel all the energy around me (I don’t wear headphones for this reason).  I can hear the bats flying by me, hear the ospreys calling each other in the distance, hear the fish jumping around me, smell the ocean’s plethora of smells, feel the paddle encountering the resistance of the water, feel the acceleration of my board, see the sky illuminating as the sun comes up…and so on and so on.  You get the picture.  2 hours feels like 20 minutes.  When you lose yourself and find yourself, you know that you have entered your happy place.  A place of no thought and just existence.  A place of flow.  Imagine a place where you go to be happy.  Can you picture it in your mind?  You can have multiple places, and even instances where you shared these experiences with the ones that you love.  You now have the power to harness that happy place anywhere, anytime.  


Your Happy Place: Anywhere, Anytime


Through the power of visualization, you can enter your happy place at anytime.  During your breaks at at work, instead of mindlessly getting on your phone, go to your happy place.  Visualize yourself there and you will be there, and happy.  Remember that YOU are the one who creates your own happiness, not through some material possession or even another person.  You become happy by being happy.  It sounds like a self licking ice-cream cone but the research supports this theory.  Happiness is achieved by being happy and doing active things that stimulate your brain in a mindful fashion and your body in a healthy way, not by accumulating things or friends.  In that way, you can enter your happy place, through visualization, once you have figured out what makes you happy.  If fishing makes you happy, then visualize yourself fishing the next time you take a break at work or have some free time between phone calls.  Actually visualize yourself with your favorite fishing rod at your most productive fishing spot.  You will be there and your stress levels will drop.   


The Happiness Formula


H = S + C + V.  Happiness = (Biological Set Point) + (Conditions) + (Voluntary Activities that induce Flow).  Fairly simple formula; however, difficult to implement in today’s society because of the amount of ubiquitous stress that envelopes us (both real and self manufactured) on a daily basis.  Our Set Points (S) are predetermined by our physiology.  Most of us, in my opinion, have negative set points for happiness because of our evolutionary history.  Being happy does not necessarily help you survive against a T-Rex (I don’t think we were around with the T-Rex, but you get the picture).  Survival depends on us being wary, careful, non-trusting, etc.  Conditions, C, are external situations that you have control over.  These can be as simple as the noise you are exposed to, or the length of your commute.  They also include the amount of control that you have in your life, the healthy relationships that are in, and the level of your self-confidence.  I am a firm believer that you can change your conditions, but the last element in the formula is one of the most powerful elements that often gets neglected.  Where C stands for external Conditions that we have certain affect over, V stands for the Voluntary actions that we take to invoke flow activities within ourselves.  These activities, although external, bring us long lasting internal happiness.  Activities such as volunteering in a soup kitchen, helping random people that we don’t know, giving to a charity anonymously, training and running in a race to help with child cancer; all these activities and more will grow your V factor and contribute to your happiness.  Remember that the intention of V activities should be done without any expectation of anything in return.  You should not expect or want anything in return or this detracts from the voluntary activity and becomes a selfish act.  Let someone through in traffic without the expectation of a thank you.  Activities such as these, if done properly, can help you to find your happy place and even reverse the effects of your set point (S).      




Find your happy place this week. What is the activity that brings you the most happiness?  Visualize this activity in times of stress or when you can take a break from whatever you are doing.  Analyze your Happiness Formula.  What is your natural set point?  Why do you think you are this way?  Look at your external conditions and see how you can improve them.  Work on your meaningful relationships and give freely of yourself to others.  Finally, look at your Voluntary activities (V).  Can you improve on what you are already doing?  Make a list of random acts of kindness that you wish to accomplish this week.  This will add to your V and help you to achieve happiness in your life.  Remember that happiness is something that we all deserve; not a sign of weakness or something you should feel guilty about.


“Lean into it!”


Dr. N