Forget Supposed To...

Resilience is a state of thriving in the unexpected and loving the challenge.  When you have too much "supposed to" in your life, you threaten your happiness, your cognitive capacity to thrive in the unknown, and perhaps even your health.   

I had a conversation with my friend the other morning and he expressed some concern about his son who was "supposed to" go to college and chose not to.  This was causing some stress since the father's expectations did not align with his son's expectations.  Have you ever experienced this situation?

Having too much "supposed to" in your life creates unnecessary stress.  

When you say that you are supposed to do something, you generally don't agree with the decision or process that you are describing.  An underlying desire exists that creates a sense of cognitive dissonance.  This cognitive dissonance creates stress (you may not even feel it) that degrades your happiness, diminishes your capacity to adapt to navigate unknown situations, and even may suppress your immune system.  

Are you following your true passion when you are "supposed to" do anything?  

Probably not.  If you were following your true passion, you would use a different phrase then "supposed to."  20 plus years ago when I went through SEAL training, I did not tell people, "I am supposed to go through SEAL training, so I am going to go do it."  That terminology never crossed my mind because I was super motivated and excited about going through the training.  I said "I am going to go to SEAL training" or "I want to go to SEAL training."  Using supposed to implies that you do not want to do the event or that somehow you are being "forced" to do it.  

Nobody can force you into doing anything.  

Using too much "supposed to" is dangerous because you go down the path of self defeatism or worse, blaming others for a decision that you truly don't want to execute.  You are in ultimate control of everything that goes on in your life, even the things that you cannot control.  You may not be able to control everything, but what you can control is how you react to the things that are beyond your control.  You can start with what you say to yourself and work from there.  For example, even if you know you have to go to work tomorrow, you can change your language from "supposed to" to want to.  You will feel better about going to work and have a better attitude.  If, however, you continue to modify your language in this way for too long, it may be time to look for a different job.  Either way, you gain control of the situation; you are always in control.

Changing your Perspective

How should we deal with the things that we must do?  Do them with enthusiasm and motivation.  Change your language from "supposed to" to "want to."  

"I am supposed to be more successful."    "I want to be more successful; how do you do it?"
"My son was supposed to go to college."  "My son did not want to go to college."
"I was supposed to be more successful by now."  "I want to be more successful; how do I do it?"
I am supposed to go to work."  "I want to go to work; if I don't, then I should change careers."

Words are powerful tools that we use.  When you use to much "supposed to" and not enough "want to," you lose control of your life.  You are relinquishing your control and giving it to your actions.  By changing your language to more want to, then you gain control of your actions and reduce your stress.  

This week, gain control of you life by forgetting your "supposed to" events.  Write down a tick mark every time you use "supposed to" or "have to" to describe something that you will accomplish or have accomplished.  

Take a mental note on how you feel at the end of the week.  Forgetting "supposed to" is the first step in gaining control of you life and increasing your resilience.

Dr. N

P.S.  If you want to join us in a discussion regarding this topic, click here.  




Nobody wants to be disappointed.  We avoid the situation at all times.  We naturally seek pleasurable experiences over situations or events that make us feel sad.  That is a natural human trait; seek pleasure and avoid pain. As young humans, we are trained to get fed when we cry, consoled when we fall, and always seek situations that will help us feel safe.  Disappointment is not something that we like to do, but, as we all know, disappointment is a fact of life.  

This weekend, I was supposed to race in the NYC SEA Paddleboard race in New York City.  This is a 25 mile race around Manhattan to raise money for autism and the environment.  As you can imagine, training for this race took months to accomplish.  Paddling 25 miles is not something that you take lightly, unless you want a major disappointment.  I decided to take the whole family with me to New York, not only to cheer me on, but to also spend a couple of days looking for Spiderman (my son is 13 and is obsessed).  There we were, in Atlanta airport; we decided to make a 5 hour drive to Atlanta from Panama City, Florida, so that we would get a direct flight.  We try to make traveling easier for our daughter (10), who is autistic (this made the meaning of this race even more poignant for all of us).  When we arrived at the Atlanta airport, which by the way is much more confusing to navigate than I thought it would be, we were very surprised to hear that our flight was cancelled due to bad weather!  What's worse, no other flights were available for that day.  The soonest flight would get us there after the race start, which was pointless considering our mission to do the race.  

There we all stood, our race and vacation plans pulled out from under us.  However, before this even happened (we had to wait in line for about an hour to find out if we could schedule another flight) we already had contingency plans, in case we were not able to make it out.  These plans involved spending time together as a family, as well as a 25 mile solo paddle back home to compensate for the distance that I would have paddled up in New York.  

I would be lying to say that I was not disappointed.  However, when you train your cognitive processes not to stress over things that you cannot control, then you quickly skip over the disappointment.  Using a few simple tips, one can quickly move of from even a major disappointment.  

Focus on the Good Things

When your life gets depressing or difficult to handle, focus on the things that are going right.  Many sayings exist in this regard (think lemons), but you get the point.  Focusing on the good things and being grateful for what you have (left) may be a way out of your disappointment.

Do an After Action Review

When things go wrong, we typically want to learn from our mistakes so that we don't repeat them.  I immediately learned from this airplane cancellation and determined that we will always fly  within driving distance from home to the airport.  That way, if the plane gets cancelled, you simply go home and are not stranded 5 hours from home.  After Action Reviews, or AARs, help us to improve our performance moving forward.  They also help us to process the disappointment by focusing on learning from the event rather than being controlled by the disappointment.

It Can Always Be Worse

All in all, we all survived the event and were back home within 2 days.  Disappointing events, as bad as they may be, can always be worse.  People who have experienced loss of loved ones would love to be stuck in the airport with them, even if they had to argue with them on what to do next.  Resilience comes from the recognition that no matter how bad our lives seem to get, our situation could always be worse.  

 Be The Leader

When the disappointment happens, others will be looking to see how you handle it.  If you handle disappointments like a 2 year old having a temper tantrum (like many airport travelers frequently do), individuals around you will be stressed and learn from your behavior, especially if they are your kids.  Be the leader and take the disappointment in stride.

That Which Doesn't Kill You, Makes You Stronger

My personal favorite.  Related to the universal concept of not stressing over things; this is the simple concept that unless people are at risk of life or limb, then the disappointment is not a true disappointment, and should be dealt with accordingly.  In other words, suck it up and move on, you are still alive!

This week, I want you to write down one (or two) major disappointments that have happened to you in the past 6 months.  Employ the 4 tips above to the situation and see whether or not you have other ways that you deal with disappointment.  Share in the forum with others so that we can all learn from each other.

Be ready when the next disappointment comes along and see how you can deal with it from a stance of resilience

Dr. N

For a discussion of this topic, visit our forum here.  

P.S.  This week's blog picture is of the author during his 25 mile paddle in Panama City to simulate the New York City race.  Thanks to everyone who supported Dr. N on his mission to raise awareness and money for autism.    

Taking Risks

We all take risks in our lives.  Whenever you leave your house and drive a car, you are taking a huge risk.  When we choose our spouses, or attempt to find out what we want to do in our lives, or even eat at a local restaurant; we take risks.  Some risks are more dangerous than others, such as High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) jumps; however, taking risks is something that we all must do in order to thrive and grow.  

Looking deeper into risk taking reveals two possibilities: taking calculated risks and taking blind risks.  There is a difference.  People that are inherently resilient take calculated risks.  They study tides, the weather, and other factors before venturing out into the great outdoors on an adventure.  They don't just go out and risk it all without getting training.  That is the calculated risk.  The blind risk is simply doing something that gives you adrenaline but little or no training.  People have called SEALs adrenaline junkies.  That is the furthest from the truth.  Risky activity is trained and rehearsed to mitigate the danger and lower the risk of failure.  But you must take the risk in order to grow.

The rub occurs between the space of not doing anything (low risk) and learning something that pushes you out of your comfort zone to the point of potential failure (high risk).  If the risk of failure is high, then we tend not to push out of our comfort zone.  However, if you practice risky (calculated) behavior long enough, then learning new things not only becomes second nature but becomes intoxicating.  

This week, I want you to identify some things that you may fear to do because you may risk failure.  Start training for them and set a date when you will attempt the activity.  The activity could be something really simple like speaking in public or learning how to SCUBA dive.  Push yourself through the risky behavior and see how you feel.  Remember to train first though and not chase the adrenaline rush.  What you gain from training and pushing out of your comfort zone may surprise you and carry over into other activities as well.

"Lean into it!"

Dr. N

For a discussion on this topic, visit our forum here.  

Slow is Fast

We had a saying in the SEAL Teams and I believe that it was stolen from somewhere.  Like all great sayings, it's one of those that you remember for the rest of your life.  I remember that we were on the range (where you shoot), and we were learning drawing out of a pistol holster and firing instinctively at metal targets that were freshly painted.  The sound of a bullet hitting metal and the sight of the bullet hitting the paint instantly reinforces your neuromuscular system into adjusting your aim and body position for the next shot.  But, I digress.

The saying that the instructor gave us when he noticed that many of us were rushing the shot was, "Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast so...Slow is Fast!"  It's one of those sayings that doesn't really make sense because it's a saying of opposites.  However, after many years of practice, I can honestly say that Slow is Fast really does work.

Whenever we learn something new, especially a complicated movement that requires both mental and physical capabilities, we learn better by slowing down the movement into digestible chunks.  We often practice the movement slowly and methodically, thinking about every nuance of the movement.  We do this over and over again until the movement becomes "natural" and we say that we have developed "muscle memory".  This is the the flux capacitor of training (Back to the Future Reference) and the basis for learning just about anything.  If you rush things at the beginning, you will most certainly mess things up or worse, learn the movement incorrectly.  

How many times do we rush new things and mess things up, only to have to go back to the beginning and relearn things and try again?  Slow if Fast.  Begin by analyzing what it is that you are going to do.  Then learn the individual steps and rehearse these steps individually.  Learn from your errors and adjust your methodology until you get it right.  Only after countless practices can you begin to master the movement.  Slow if Fast.

But does the saying only apply to physical movements?  I don't think so.  Sometimes slow if fast applies to our everyday lives.  Perhaps slowing down to spend time with your relationships speeds up your connection to them?  Go through things too quickly and they don't "soak in" to your brain and you can't truly remember what you did.  After Action reviews help to review what you did, but that is the topic of another day.  For now, let's stick to Slow if Fast.

Your assignment for this week is to take something that you are learning for the first time and apply the Slow is Fast methodology to it.  Break the movement down into steps.  Repeat each step individually slowly and think about what you are doing as precisely as you can.  Once you have mastered the movement, go to full speed and see how you feel.  Take the time to approach everything with a more methodical, Slow if Fast approach.  What kinds of relationships do you have?  Relationships that are fleeting because you don't take the time to slow down with them?  Or are they meaningful and long lasting.  How many things can you apply the Slow is Fast concept to?  Remember that in the end, you will not be remembered for what you did.  You will be remembered for how you made others feel in your presence.  Slow is Fast.

Dr. N

For an active discussion of Slow is Fast, click here.  

Being Naive

Today, I was told that I was naive.  For a very brief moment, I took it as a great insult. After all, with my experience, education, upbringing (and all the other ego filled garbage that one can think of), wouldn't you take this as an insult as well?  The truth is that I answered, "thanks" and "I hope to always be naive" and I could not believe the positive energy that washed over me as I said those words.  Truth be told, we should all strive in being naive.  Being naive requires us to view things from a child's perspective.  Have you ever observed a toddler observing something for the first time?  Assuming the child can talk, did you ever see that child roll her eyes or dismiss the new activity as something trite or a waste of time?  Never.  Children view the world with the utmost fascination and joy.  They taste every second they are awake with all their senses, sometimes to their detriment.

Being naive opens the door to fascination and to one of the best ways we have of living our lives in the present moment, gratitude.  When we are fascinated by something, we innately become grateful of the experience and look at the world in a more positive light.  Remember the look of a child when they view something for the first time.  Children become mesmerized by anything that is new.  They relish in the experience and bathe in every aspect of it.  When is the last time you did this?  Children are able to this because they don't have to pay bills, go to work, or feel like they need to change jobs any time soon.  They are focused and ready to explore the world from their naive perspective.    

Today was not the first time that I was told that I was naive.

A long time ago, I was on a flight to Paris. I remember sitting next to a French gentleman who became amused at how fascinated I was that the indications on the aircraft were written in French.  I remember saying something to him (in French) expressing my utter fascination at how different the signs were designed.  He was almost annoyed at the fact that a grown man would find something so trivial so fascinating.  Looking back on that moment, I realize that being naive is a state that we should all strive to enter and stay as long as possible.  

Your assignment for the week is to explore the everyday things that you do from a child's perspective.  Let yourself become naive again.  See the common things that you see from a fresh and new perspective.  Become grateful of the things that you take for granted by viewing them from a naive perspective.  Those of you with a large ego may find this exercise difficult.  However, suppressing your ego is the key to happiness and serving others.

Be naive and stay naive.

"Lean into it!"

Dr. N


For a discussion on this topic, click here to enter our forum.     


If you have ever played jazz or blues, you know what improvisation is.  Improvisation is playing a melody as it develops by ear and not following set notes.  The chord structure is usually the same, but even that changes sometimes.  Musicians must anticipate the changes and play the notes so that the entire piece comes together in a creative process.  If you are a fan of Clint Eastwood and the movie Heart Break Ridge, you remember the famous Marine Sergeant (played by Clint Eastwood himself), saying "Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome" as the motto that he lived by as a Marine.  Improvisation has been linked to effectiveness in teams as long as two factors are present.  The team must have a leader that is not autocratic and empowers to team to make its own decisions.  Also, the team must not be overloaded with stress.  Does this sound familiar at all?  Training of any kind, whether by playing jazz or training for a sport, builds the self-confidence necessary for improvisation.  Think about it.  When you are completely new at something-anything-its hard to cut loose and try something new right away.  You must learn the basics first.  Once you learn the new activity, then it's time to improvise to get maximum benefit from the activity.  The trouble is, in my opinion, individuals seldom try new things during their activities because they don't realize how important it is to improvise..  Improvisation builds new connections in your brain and at the same time builds your self-confidence regarding the activity. If you swim, try a new stroke spontaneously in the middle of your workout.  If you are paddling, suddenly jump in and swim to the bottom (assuming you are not very deep) and take a sand sample.  At work, try new and creative approached to the same old problem.  Take a different route to work.  Order something completely new at a restaurant and be extra nice to the waitress.  The list goes on and on.  Our brains are built to improvise.  We just need to get out there and practice it.  And guess what; improvisation builds resilience too.  When we improvise, our brains adapt to the new stimulus and we are ready for even more change, on the fly.  Changing on the fly and not being affected by the change (and actually thriving in its wake) are the cornerstones of resilience.  So get out today and start improvising.  Who knows, you may even start playing some jazz music...

"Lean into it!"

Dr. N

For a form discussion on this topic, click here to join our forum.  

Taking Things for Granted

This week, after paddling 20 plus miles in 100 degree heat index getting ready for next month's New York City Autism race, I realized the meaning of true resilience.  Most people mistake resilience with being tough.  Or perhaps sucking up the pain when you want to stop.  Resilience encompasses aspects of being mentally tough but goes way beyond what people may think.  Resilience is an art or skill that needs constant refining and polishing.  When I finished with my paddle, and I was happy that I did, I reflected for a while on the things that I had taken for granted that day.  Taking things for granted is something that we all do.  Perhaps not all the time. But the minute you lose concentration on what you are doing, or let your mind wander in a different direction than where you wanted it to go, you start taking things for granted.  Taking things for granted is the next worst thing to not appreciating the things (or people) around us.  It's the opposite of resilience, since taking advantage of people can become a bad habit that takes us away from truly looking at ourselves with a constructive, perhaps even critical eye.  When we take things for granted, we lose the gratitude battle and when we lose the gratitude battle, we begin to move away from truly living and appreciating the present moment.  When I finished paddling last Saturday, I realized (and this is after looking at the pictures from the training) that I had not truly concentrated on my form throughout the paddle.  By not concentrating 100% on form and solely concentrating on going faster, I actually paddled slower.  What's even worse, I was so concerned about my speed over ground that I did not fully appreciate all the incredible things that I had seen that morning, including the picture for this post.  

How many of us glance over what's important in our present lives?  We try and go too fast and fail to see the beauty in the process.  The thrill of learning something new.  In general, we tend to go too quickly and as a result take the process for granted.  The journey.  We have a saying in the SEALs and probably applies to other disciplines as well; Slow is smooth; and smooth is fast; so slow is fast...

When you take things for granted, your life speeds up and you begin going down the road of insatiability.  You become a glutton for people, things, food, alcohol; whatever gets in front of you.  Your assignment for this week is to write down at least one thing (person) that you take for granted.  How does that make you feel?  What steps can you take to reverse this situation?  Are there other things that you take for granted?  

Remember that resilience is something that doesn't just happen.  It takes introspection, work, and an honest swim buddy to tell you if you stray from the course.  If you can't find anything that you take for granted, chances are your swim buddy (or significant other) can point you in the right direction!  

Enjoy this week's assignment!

Dr. N

P. S.  If you want to join our discussion on the forum, here it is.  

Take it to the Limit (one more time).

One of my favorite Eagles songs has a pretty incredible message associated with it.  Take it to the limit.  If you are a student of Mission Based Resilience, you truly know what this means.  Taking it to the limit means setting goals that are just beyond your reach, and then developing a plan to attain those goals complete with quantifiable mini goals and the accountability needed to keep you on the right track (a swim buddy).  The key is not to set a goal that is completely out of your reach and unattainable, while at the same time not selling yourself too short and wallowing in your own mediocrity.  Having individuals around you that are keeping you in check helps; however, in the absence of that, you should develop your own self discipline (driven by your personal creed) to get the job done.  

When new individuals want to learn how to paddle board,  I encourage them to push themselves (with their balance) until they fall.  I celebrate the fact that they fall and congratulate them for it! Only when you fall, will you know exactly how far to push yourself.  If you never fall off the board, you will never know how far to push yourself and you will always strive for a mediocre pace.  Pushing yourself and taking it to your limit (and beyond) should be your resilient battle cry.

Learning occurs in failing, but not in quitting.  We all learn by failing.  The way to stop learning is either quitting or setting our goals so low that we attain them too easily or without any kind of struggle.  Resilience is built upon bouts of struggle coupled with periods of recovery.  Taking it to the limit involves realistically pushing yourself (your swim buddy can help you to have clarity in this) but having periods of rest and recovery.  The key is not to dwell too long in either rest or recovery or pushing yourself to the limit.  

This week, look at your goals.  Are they attainable?  Are they too easy?  Try and find a balance so that you can push yourself to the limit (and just beyond) and not get frustrated by a goal that is just too difficult.  The only one who can honestly make this assessment is you.  Don't cheat yourself.  Remember that your own resilience is counting on you finding that correct balance between taking it to the limit and resting.

"Lean into it!"

Dr. N

If you want to participate in this week's discussion on our forum, join us here.   


The Farewell Address

The farewell address is a speech given by individuals who have served in a certain capacity for a long time.  They address those who have followed them and are loyal to their cause.  The address embodies the culmination of the successes, the failures, the stories long past, and gives a positive message and inspiration to those who have supported the individual over the course of a career.  When I was 19, my father tragically and suddenly passed away.  A couple of years ago, my cousin-we had grown up together and were as close as brothers-died after a battle with cancer.  I was supposed to talk with my cousin one final time but never did. In fact, we never really talked about him dying at all.  I guess it may have been too difficult to do it since we were so close.   I never had a chance to talk with my father one last time because he died so suddenly.  I believe that closure before death is important, both for the people that are dying and the family that they leave behind.  Too often, the end comes tragically for some and unexpectedly for others.  

My calling is to help people to become more resilient.  I have taught my program to various individuals and groups; the common theme is that I help people design a program that includes multiple "tools" that combine to give you second to none resilience.  This week, we will design our farewell address.  This should not be a morbid exercise, even though you are imagining that you will be giving this speech at your funeral.  This address is a celebration of your life on this planet.  The address should embody key components that were important to you.  The address should flow from your heart and instill a sense of closure for your guests.  Speaking of guests, make a list of individuals that you want to be included as your audience to receive your speech.  Friends and family, both past and present, dead or alive, can be included.  Who are the important people in your life.  Include them at the end of your speech.  



This assignment is the ultimate self-reflection exercise.  We conduct self-reflections as a way to look back on our performance, learn a few lessons, and improve our performance and happiness in the future.  In this speech, you are giving the individuals in the audience both closure and a hope for a future that you will not be involved with, at least physically.  What words of wisdom will you leave with your audience?  How do you think they will react?  How can you help them to give meaning to the tragic loss that they have experienced?  

This exercise is not designed to bring you sadness.  On the contrary, it should help you to open your eyes to the people that are most important in your life and help you to truly live today like it were your last one.  Enjoy!

Dr. N


For an active discussion on this week's assignment, click here to join our forums.  

AARs and Learning from Your Mistakes

In the military, AARs, or After Action Reviews, are an integral part of learning about your operations and improving the performance of your unit or team.  Unfortunately, the AAR process takes a long time, and sometimes it can be painful.  This past week, on one of my training paddles, I lost my phone in 12 feet of bay water.  Luckily, after an extensive search operation, we found the phone.  However, this was not the first time that I had lost a phone in the ocean.  The last time was a couple of years back when my phone, complete with lanyard and floating device, was ripped off my vest in the surf while I volunteered as a lifeguard during a local triathlon race.  The After Action Review is designed to stop something like this from happening again.  So here is how the process works.  First you list what went wrong.  Then you list what went right.  Then you capture any lessons that need to be learned for next time.  Let's give it a shot here:

What went wrong:

1.  Lost phone

2 No flotation device.

3. Old pocket on vest could not hold phone.

4. Lanyard failed because of poor quality and the fact that it got wet from the saltwater

What went right:

1. Case held up to over 2 hours of submersion at 12 feet of saltwater

2. Search and recovery methodology still works (conducted a circle search for lost object)

3. Marked the position as soon as phone fell into the water and returned with proper equipment to conduct recovery

Lessons Learned:

The lessons learned here are numerous.  The fact that this is the second time that this has happened to me in less than two years is a red flag.  AARs are designed so that you do not make the same mistakes again.  Perhaps a more thorough AAR should have been conducted the first time that I lost a phone.  Because as you will soon see, had I implemented the lessons learned from the first event, the second event would never have happened.  In the first event, I had a float and faulty lanyard.   I lost the phone because the lanyard broke rendering the float useless.  However, in the second event, the lanyard detached itself from my vest but I did not have a float.  had I integrated the lessons learned from the first event, I would have had a float on my phone during the second event and the phone would have floated.  So the lesson learned here is to have two points of failure when you have a phone with you while paddling.  The first one is a strong lanyard and the second is a floating mechanism.  That way, you are assured that even if the lanyard breaks away from your vest, you will still have a floating phone.  

Now I did not go through this process to teach you about a phone.  I want to showcase the process (and a powerful one it is) of the AAR.  You can imagine that with a more complicated operation, such as a relationship with a spouse or a business deal, the AARs will be more complex and more useful.  When the stakes are higher, the AAR becomes essential.  When the stakes involve life and death situations, the AAR becomes critical.  Every time we would jump out of an airplane, we would do an AAR upon hitting the ground.  What went wrong?  What went right?  What lessons did you learn from the jump?  

This week, go through an event in your work or home and conduct an AAR on your own.  Take as much detail with it as you wish.  The more detailed the AAR and the more time you put into it, the more your process will improve the next time you go through the same event, or even a similar event.  

Trust the process and you will see how your performance will improve.

Lean into it!

Dr. N

P.S.  For a discussion about this week's post, click here.