Category Archives: Newsletter

“Aren’t we so precious?”

By Greer Kirshenbaum, PhD


Earlier this year I had a memorable encounter where I was met with resistance to the importance of emotional wellness. The experience led to a meaningful dialogue, which has fueled my passion to support emotional wellbeing at all stages of life and communicate its importance. For a long time society has not valued emotional health. But the truth is, the health of our mind, our brain and our bodies is precious and it’s time to shift thinking back to this truth. 

I was having the usual meet and greet with a new person at a party, the classic icebreakers were exchanged: What do you do? -What do you do? I explained that I am a neuroscientist and a doula who educates and supports emotional wellbeing and brain health at many stages of life: in pregnancy, birth, infancy and adulthood. The person’s initial response was, “Well…. aren’t we sooooo precious these days?”, insinuating that my career is superfluous while mocking the people who seek out these types of services. I thought for a minute and confidently replied that the answer is simply, yes. Yes we are precious. And it’s not just these days. We have always been precious. Humans have always had emotional needs, complex emotions and brains that are wired to feel good with support from and attunement with other people. We have always been built to benefit from emotional intelligence and support.

For a long time the intelligence quotient or IQ has been celebrated and emotional intelligence or EQ has been buried, diminished and mocked. We’ve been told “don’t be so sensitive” “suck it up” “take it like a man” “don’t be a silly girl” “don’t get emotional” “its business not personal” and other permutations of these ideas. The idea of IQ over EQ, that we’ve been bombarded with, comes from a very early understanding of the mind and brain, before modern scientific discovery. For a long time society has believed that we should only value IQ to be successful.  This put us on a road to ignoring EQ and suppressing our emotions in all vital parts of life: school, work and even relationships.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio in his work and famous book “Descartes Error” was one of many scientists to change our ideas about EQ. His work, and the work of many others, provides strong evidence that IQ and EQ are both tremendously important for success. Moreover modern neuroscience has uncovered that brain areas for IQ and EQ are intimately connected and cannot function independently of one another. We have also learned that while IQ is generally difficult to influence, EQ can be highly flexible. We can meaningfully enrich our personal lives and work lives by nurturing and expanding our EQ. Psychologist Daniel Goleman brought many of these ideas to us in his book Emotional Intelligence. Finally EQ is intimately linked with our physical health. When we enhance EQ we get healthier.   

Now that we know that EQ is vital to our success and wellbeing and that we have been ignoring it for most of our lives, we have a genuine need for emotional education. In times where our emotional internal worlds have been silenced we have become sicker than ever, both mentally and physically and we have not been thriving in our relationships and work. We need to teach EQ to babies, children, adolescents and adults because yes, EQ is precious.

I discussed all of this with the person at the party and in the end we agreed that providing or receiving education about EQ and health is not a joke. As we got into our conversation the person disclosed that they had their own struggles and perhaps their initial comment was a type of defense mechanism; perhaps we all have to examine this knee-jerk reaction. In the end our conversation inspired this person to begin their own journey into emotional health and EQ.  We must be confident that our mental health is precious, our physical health is precious, our hearts, emotions, needs and experiences are precious.

For more information:

Antonio Damasio:

Daniel Goleman:

Is Obedience a Desirable Characteristic in Children?

By Chip DeLorenzo, M. Ed


I was in the book store recently with my oldest and youngest children looking for a gift for my wife’s birthday. While shopping I ran into a mother of one of the children who attended our school about 10 years ago. As I usually do, I asked how her daughter was doing in school.  The mother responded that her child was doing very well academically, but had made a few trips to the principal’s office recently, and implied that her child could be “sassy.” I found myself smiling as she told me this, as I remembered her child well. She was certainly had a big personality and strong will. I could certainly see how she might end up in the principal’s office from time to time. Interestingly, I found this information comforting. I was glad she still had her strong personality, and while I’m sure the time in the principal’s office wasn’t pleasant, I was also glad she had been questioning authority.  

Now, I must admit, that I can say these “blasphemous” things with some authority, because I also spent my time in the principal’s office and at the back of the room when I was a student. Now, as a principal (Head of School), I receive children just like myself and the girl above, in my office from time to time. I appreciate them, and I see them as a barometer to how we treat children in our school.  

In our school, we view obedience as a form of misbehavior. Misbehavior meaning a behavior that is not conducive to personal or social growth and harmony. Sometimes adults will do a double take when we express this idea. After all, shouldn’t children respect their elders, and trust in our guidance and direction? Let’s consider the word obedience as defined by Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary; “to be submissive to authority; yielding willingly to commands, orders or injunctions.” Is this what we really want for our children? Is this a quality that employers or our society really needs?  

A now famous report conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, published in the early 90’s, entitled “What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000”, identified personal qualities that employers needed to be competitive in the growing global economy. In addition to basic academic skills, like reading, writing, math and communication skills, the research indicated that employers were in need of foundational personal qualities like individual responsibility, self-esteem, integrity, self-management, decision making and problem-solving ability, creative thinking, and the ability to reason and know how to learn. Nothing about obedience! A recent Forbes article also discussed what employers are now looking for in future employees:

As a parent, I really want my children to be cooperative, respectful and helpful. But I also want them to experience respect, cooperation, and helpfulness. I want them to know that they are valued, that they are safe to make and learn from their mistakes, and that they are capable. I want them to value others, and give them the respect to learn from their mistakes and give them the room to experience their capability. I want them to question authority, even my authority, when it is appropriate! I also want them to learn to trust authority when that is appropriate.

Respect and obedience are not the same thing. But, it can be confusing as a parent. In a moment when I’m exhausted and overwhelmed, obedience from my children sounds like the perfect elixir to all that ails me in that moment. But what am I teaching them if I promote obedience as a value or a virtue? Am I preparing them for the decisions that they will have to make on their own, when I am not around (drugs, personal safety, sex, friends, moral choices, etc.)? Am I preparing them to live in a world where they are needed to solve problems, manage themselves and think creatively? As a colleague of mine said, “We complain about strong-willed children, but do we really want weak-willed children?”

What most parents are really seeking is cooperation rather than obedience. So, how can we create an environment where children can develop their personal autonomy, have a voice (respectfully), develop reasoning skills, and want to be cooperative? Below I have outlined a beginning, using steps for building cooperation with children. Next month, I will also focus on how to use family meetings to help develop cooperation and autonomy at the same time.

Building Cooperation with Your Children

  1. Take time to listen. Dig deep to understand where your child is coming from when you and he/she have a problem. Take a deep breath and try to see things from their point of view, even if their view isn’t logical. Express understanding. “So, it sounds like you’re really angry that you have to clean your room because you really wanted to go with your friends to the pool. ” Check to see if you are right.
  2. Show empathy. You don’t have to agree or condone your child’s point of view, just that you understand their perception. “I understand how disappointed you must be that you had to skip the pool time to clean your room. I had to miss a golf game this week because I didn’t get my monthly report finished on time.”
  3. Share Your Perceptions or Feelings. Be honest. “I am feeling frustrated, myself. Saturday morning is the time we clean our rooms, and you chose not to do it then. Then you blamed me for your missing the pool trip because your room wasn’t clean yet.” If you really listened and expressed empathy in the first two steps, your child should be open to listening to you.
  4. Problem Solve Together. Invite your child to help you come up with a solution to the problem. “What can we do to solve this problem?” or “What could you/we do in the future to avoid this problem?”

With an attitude of kindness and openness, and willingness on your part to solve vs. direct, you will be surprised how well this tool works.  

Gratitude And Anxiety: Competitors In The Fight For Safety

By Barry Walker


Several years ago, Ben came to see me in my role as a psychotherapist.He was 71 years old, but looked like he was ready to die. Really beat up. He said that he was a cancer survivor, and handicapped with PTSD. He was a veteran of the US Army, the CIA, and several news organizations having served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other similar war zones. It happened that he lived in Oregon, near where I was spending the summer in Montana, so I invited him to meet with me over three days at one of the houses on our property.

We spent the first meeting on Day One reviewing his life story, much of it centered around being present when thousands of people were killed, including some of his close friends. He was full of stories: Memories of village elders, feeling at home with the Afghans, his friends in the Army he did Civil and community work with, being hunted by warlords, killing people.

He told his stories with a kind of detached humor, as if the memories weren’t quite real. Of course, they were real, and he was detached in that way PTSD causes. His body was kind of frozen and rigid, especially his diaphragm and breathing. Just the sort of physical reactions terror and fear will do to you. He was a man walking around in a fear seizure.
On the second day, we sat on the deck of the house and looked out over fields and mountains. Lots of Angus beef cattle wandering over for a drink from the river running by us. Hawks, Eagles, Herons, Swans, Ducks, Cranes. He gradually went silent, watching the whole unfolding performance of Mother nature. I said nothing. At least two hours went by, interrupted only by drinks of water and tea.

After these hours, Ben began talking about his friend, Bob. He said that he and Bob had been friends for several years, working in the same Community Liaison unit of five solders. “Bob was shot in the head in a village square while he was standing right next to me.” He turned and looked at me with a blank stare, but visibly trying to compose himself.

I said, “You lost your closest friend in such a horrible way. Tell me what your friendship had been like.” Ben proceeded to tell numerous small stories and memories of touching moments. Finally, he looked at me and said, “I really miss Bob.” Tears began to roll down from his eyes, and he began to speak to Bob, as if he were present: “Godammit, Bob, not much made sense after you died. Going to the elder meetings wasn’t warm and meaningful anymore. I missed our trading stories at the end of each day. But, you know, as much as I miss you, I am deeply grateful for having you as my friend. You taught me a lot about how to talk with people. You were right there with me for all those years.”

He cried, and then laughed as some unspoken memory popped. And then cried again. His breathing was open as he quietly sobbed. Rocking a bit in his chair. Then, he looked up at a small group of ducks and said, “Thanks for being there, guys. I love you Bob. See you soon!” Cried and laughed. The rest of that day, and most of the next, we walked along the river. Ben kept stopping to point out small creature trails, flowers, second-growth
grasses, nest, and the history of stones lying around. He was alive. Again.

He wanted to show me what he knew. And he wanted to give me his books, and pieces of art. Mostly he gave himself life again. The PTSD shrank as his heart with gratitude opened up. Thank you Mother Nature.


Everybody agrees: Gratitude is a good thing. Lots of testimonials to the wonder of ‘Gratitude’. And, it truly is a wondrous feeling and awareness. For me, it’s what love is. “I am so grateful for you” is what I mean when I say “I love you”.

The great news is that Gratitude is always present in our lives. It is a fundamental organ of consciousness. It is love, forgiveness, tenderness. And Empathy. If only we could allow it to have its voice. To sing its song. To guide our lives.

As I said above, we do not have to go in search of Gratitude; it lives within us all the time. The real question is: “How come we don’t feel it all the time?”

The answer: “Anxiety gets in the way”. Reduce the toxic impact of anxiety and Gratitude will be there most of the time. There is no work to do to initiate Gratitude. Perhaps there is work, like journaling, that can be done to keep Gratitude fueled up, especially when anxiety wants to run you. But, in the end, the work is with anxiety. Your anxiety. At whatever level you live with it.

So, here’s the core question, vexing though it is: “How do I get more gratitude in my life?” “Or, in the lives of our communities, our societies?”

The answer is, “Reduce anxiety and fear”.

“How do I reduce anxiety without a lot to medications?”

The answer:  Pursue Safety. Become intimate and conversant with your own anxiety. Tell the truth, Reveal yourself.  Notice when you are anxious. Say so.

At first blush this ‘Reduce Anxiety’ pathway to Gratitude may seem simplistic. For sure, it is simple. Indeed, if it’s right, it’s elegant. Instead of seeking ways to amplify Gratitude, we will find the pot of gold that is Gratitude as we do our work to reduce anxiety.

There is no pill that can do this, apparently. Although there are some meditations and ‘mindfulness’ practices that can help us towards Gratitude. (Medications that are intended to be ‘anti-anxiety’, like Xanax and Ativan relieve only the symptoms of anxiety, at a cost.)

There is plenty written about using the power of personal intention to notice and reflect on Gratitude in each of our lives. Keeping a ‘Gratitude Journal’ is high on the list these days. Oprah says so. ‘Gratitude arrives as a heart-based fuel in your life as you seek to allow it in’. Being grateful begets more life satisfaction. Being deliberately grateful stokes the fires of well-being. All good. And true. Until anxiety gets in the way.

In my experience, ‘getting anxiety out of the way’ is a learnable task that can be added to mindfulness practices in everyday life.

While acknowledging the expanding and sophisticating explorations being done in the worlds of neuroscience, psychiatry, spirituality, and philosophy, I can offer the following from my vantage point as a psychotherapist.

Have you ever had a life-threatening experience, or deep fear of loss? Many have. At least, you’ve seen people who have had such experiences. Almost universally, if the threat goes away, or is suddenly relieved, potential victims break out into ‘love for life’, Gratitude for being safe, determinations to ‘live life being of service’. And so on. This happens in part because in these ‘survival’ events anxiety is suddenly removed from current experience. And what pops into consciousness is gratitude, safety, love, compassion, empathy.

I have watched people for decades finding Gratitude as the result of experiences in nature, for example. The wilderness offers opportunities to become one with nature. Gratitude follows. As well, the urge to share the experience with others.

I have been present in therapy session with couples when one of the partners reveals a secret which has been held in fear. I’ve seen those people break down in combinations of relief and agony as they choose life in the open rather than life in fear of being found out. I have seen shame overcome by the simple act of being revealed in truth. Often love and understanding have followed. I have seen business partners tell the truth to each other, scary though that might be, and then seen their businesses grow and evolve.

What I am saying here is that anxiety and fear suppress our natural inclinations towards gratitude and empathy. Remove, or reduce, the anxiety, and gratitude emerges. Remove the anxiety without diluting presence. Gratitude is as natural a state as breathing. On the other hand, anxiety and fear squash gratitude and love into small corners for safety.

Imagine the impact on the world of psychotherapy if we had tools to actually remove anxiety from people while they considered their lives? Hardly any of us realize the extent to which even everyday anxiety distorts our experience. We have become habituated to anxiety. Much current psychotherapy happens in the midst of the haze of anxiety. Medications to reduce the anxiety simply create a different kind of haze.

“How can I speak with such certainty about how gratitude happens?”, you might rightly ask. Life’s experiences, both personal and professional.

Anxiety, too, is a natural state. As organic beings we need anxiety just to survive. Alertness! Our senses provide us with safety information. As they should. Are intended to do. But, that same anxiety becomes exponentially elaborated and intense when we have been wounded emotionally while in vulnerable states, traumatized through violation or the horror of war. In severe events of anxiety, our bodies freeze, our blood flow retreats towards our organs, our breathing goes into panic mode, or stops altogether. This kind of fear leaves a wreckage which frustrates our ability to feel secure and safe. Fear can crumple everyday life into a semi-lifeless wasteland devoid of joy, and certainly without gratitude. In this state, some of us contemplate suicide. Some of us use anxiety medications like nicotine, alcohol, opioids. Others of us retreat from life into depression. Depression, after all, is a good antidote to anxiety.

In the end, there is, currently, a world of interest in Gratitude. Saying it one more time, I believe that Gratitude is a natural state of being. I also believe that anxiety is a natural state of being. But Gratitude disappears when anxiety becomes too much, for whatever reason. You will find Gratitude, and Love, and Empathy, and Kindness, as you are able to reduce the Anxiety in your life. The implications are obvious.

In another paper I will discuss some cases where Gratitude emerges as Anxiety recedes.

Barry Walker@2017. Barry Walker is a practicing Psychotherapist and teacher in NYC.

Limited Choices

by Chip DeLorenzo, M. Ed.

Learning to make healthy and appropriate choices begins early! Waiting until adolescence to allow children to make their own choices is a recipe for disaser. In order for children to develop a healthy boundary and a sense of appropriate autonomy, they need practice making choices, and a safe environment in which to make them.
Self-control is not just an innate ability. It is learned, and like most skills, it is learned through experience. Don’t wait until your child is rebelling to start caving in and giving choices that are inappropriate. Start by giving them choices from an early age.  

mother-child-talking-300x199Limited choices are the best way to do this. A limited choice is a choice between two or more appropriate (developmentally, socially and behaviorally) and acceptable alternatives. Appropriate, in this case, means developmentally, socially or morally appropriate. For instance, it’s not a developmentally appropriate decision for a child to go to sleep whenever they want or not take their medicine. It would be developmentally appropriate to give them a choice of whether they want to hear one story or two before bed, or whether they want to brush their teeth before or after the story. It wouldn’t be a developmentally appropriate decision for a teenager to decide when their curfew was, but certainly they can participate in the decision-making process so as not to incite rebellion. Acceptable means acceptable to both you and the child. If you say, “You need to go to soccer practice or quit soccer,” or “Make your lunch or go without today,” be sure that you can live with either choice. If you can’t, don’t give the choice. It is important to note, here, that acceptable to a child doesn’t mean that they must like the choices being offered (although it is helpful) just that the decisions are reasonable and not veiled threats. So, for instance, a choice between doing the dishes and being sent to your room is a veiled threat and not a choice.

Limited choices allow for children to participate in the decision making while allowing the adult to maintain appropriate and reasonable boundaries. As children get older, more competent and experienced, the boundaries are broader. Here are some examples:

For a young child, ages 3-5:

  • “Would you like to walk to the car or skip to the car? You choose.”  
  • “Would you like to carry your own toy or leave it in the car? You choose.”
  • “What would you like for breakfast, eggs or oatmeal? You choose.”

For children, ages 6-12:

  • “Would you like to make your bed before or after breakfast?”
  • “What job would you like after dinner, wiping the table down or sweeping the floor?”
  • “When would you like to do your homework, before dinner or before TV time?”

For children, ages 13-18:

  • “Let’s discuss some ideas for a curfew that would work for you and for us.”
  • “You are welcome to come with us if you wear an outfit that would be appropriate for the occasion or you may stay home. Let me know what you decide.”
  • “I have to get myself ready for work. You can pack your own lunch or use your allowance to buy lunch at school, but you’re responsible for that decision. I trust you’ll figure it out.”

Not offering choices and opportunities to make decisions invites rebellion or dependence. Offering too many choices, without limits, invites a false sense of entitlement or insecurity. Offering limited choices is one of the most powerful tools to use in helping children to make decisions while learning to navigate boundaries and limitations – long term, life skills. It is also an incredibly effective way for developing our relationship with our children, increasing connection, cooperation and sense of trust. As a parent, I have also found that modeling this behavior also has taught my children how to set clear boundaries, but include others in decision making.  

A few years ago, my oldest son, Quinn, was asked to help put his younger brother, Nicholas, to bed by reading him a story. My younger son was not happy with this idea, as he was used to my wife or I reading to him before bed, and was quite vocal about his displeasure. In turn, Quinn looked at him and said, “Nicholas, I’m going to read you a story. Do you want to go upstairs by hopping like a bunny or slithering like a snake?”  Nicholas was pensive for a moment, and then replied, “I’m going to slither like a snake.”  And away he slid.

Money: A Lifelong Relationship Starts Early

by Chip DeLorenzo, M. Ed.


Learning to manage money is a skill. It can be taught. Like most learning, experience is the best teacher (and maybe the only teacher)! We learn what we do, and we learn from our mistakes and our successes. To help children learn about money they need to experience successes and mistakes from an early age so they can develop lifelong decision making skills. To insure this, children need an environment where the consequences of their actions are manageable and developmentally appropriate. Waiting until after college to learn about money can lead to some unmanageable consequences!

A number of years ago a friend of mine and I were having a conversation about money at a baseball game. He told me that his parents had provided everything for him when he was growing up. He didn’t have to work, and his time off was spent traveling, playing sports and engaging in recreational activities. He went to camp in the summer, and was sent to college with a car and a credit card – all expenses paid- and lived close enough to home that he could bring home his laundry on the weekends!  After college he was hired for his first job and his parents helped him get set up in an apartment. Soon after starting his job he was informed by his parents that he was on his own, financially.  It was time. After a week or so of work my friend ran out of clean clothes, so he brought all his dirty clothes to the dry cleaners. You can imagine his surprise when he received the bill! He had begun a long journey to becoming financially responsible. Unfortunately, the stakes were much greater for his mistakes, and he was very overwhelmed at the prospect of learning how to make healthy decisions with money when the consequences were so high.

Don’t wait! The more that children learn about money from an early age the more likely they are to make sound and mature decisions as they get older, both at home and when they leave home. Allowances from an early age can really help children learn to manage money for the long haul, if used to teach life lessons. However, how allowances are used in the family makes all the difference in the world.

Before we discuss the “do’s”, let’s discuss a few “don’ts” when creating an allowance structure for your children. Allowances should not be used for punishments or rewards, or in connection with chores. Using allowances as leverage for behavior puts the adult in the position of being the judge and jury and creates an opening for arbitrary and inconsistent decision making, and this invites power struggles, arguing and manipulation. Chores are contributions to the family, and if children are paid to make basic contributions to the family, then they learn that they should be paid to pitch in (see opportunities for earning money below).  The purpose of an allowance is to teach a child how to manage money.

Here’s how an allowance can work to teach money management and develop decision making skills in children. Develop a plan to give an allowance to your children every week; the same amount at the same time. Give your children the responsibility for spending and saving it accordingly. (Some families structure the allowance so that a certain percentage of money comes off the top each week to save and to give to charity.) The children are responsible for bringing their money with them if they want to buy something, or putting it away in a “piggy bank” or a real bank to save.

Developing Money Management and Decision Making Skills with an Allowances

  1. Take time to show your child what happens to money when you save it.
  2. Teach your children about budgeting before they have difficulties.
  3. Avoid rescuing children when they run out of money. Allow them to experience the limits of their ability to spend (this is a lesson that many adults need to learn, no?). Life is filled with limits, and successful people learn to work within defined limits and then see beyond them.
  4. Don’t give advice! Just ask reflective questions when they run into problems (be truly curious). Examples: What happened? What caused that to happen? How are you feeling about that? What did you learn from this? What’s your plan for next time? What can you do differently to avoid this from happening again? and etc.
  5. Avoid giving loans, but if you do: Set clear terms for the loan, make a definite plan for repayment (deducting a certain portion of their allowance until repaid), be sure that the amount that you lend can be repaid successfully and only one loan at a time.
  6. Be careful not to confuse your priorities with theirs!  When we try to force our priorities on children they either rebel or become passively compliant. This does not make for teaching good problem solving skills – children need to make their own mistakes.
  7. Set a schedule for raises based on age.
  8. As children get older (adolescence), consider the areas in which you spend or budget money for your children. Create a budget for them and give them an according allowance. For instance, if you plan on spending $700 per year on clothing for your child, give them a clothing allowance for that amount, and help them develop a plan on how to spend it that year. Other areas to consider for these allowances are: Grooming (hair, nails, etc.), Activities (lessons, sports, etc.), and lunch money.

Saving Lessons

  1. Use a piggy bank with younger children and put a portion of their allowance in the bank each week.  From time to time count it together and discuss what is happening to the money.
  2. Make a list of things that a child might want to save for and help them create a plan to get it.
  3. When children hit their savings goals, take time to use reflective questioning (above) so they can learn from their successes.

Opportunities to Earn Money

Earning money is an incredibly important life lesson. The reason, again, that we don’t connect allowance to chores, is that chores are simply a contribution to the family. We do chores because we belong to the family and have an according responsibility, and the benefits from contributing are gaining a sense of social/familial responsibility, belonging and significance. However, learning to put in a day’s work and make a day’s pay is also rewarding and vital to developing autonomy and financial independence.

To help younger children learn to earn money, simply make a list of “extra jobs” around the house that you normally do, that they can do for money. Put the amount that you are willing to pay next to each item. When your child asks you for something that it beyond their ability to pay for, just ask them if they’ve checked the “extra job” chart to see what they can earn.

Finally, as your children are able to work consider eliminating allowance and encouraging them to find a part-time job or start their own business (lawn care, shoveling, house cleaning, elderly help, etc.). This can be the first step in developing true financial independence. Many businesses have found that hiring recent graduates who have worked while in school do not have to learn basic skills such as timeliness, time management, resilience (not calling in sick when they have a sniffle), ability to take constructive criticism, and responsibility to coworkers.  As an employer myself, I weigh work experience while in school even higher than grades or extra-curricular activities when making hiring decisions (I have learned this the hard way).

The benefits of teaching children to manage money not only last a lifetime, but like most constructive parenting approaches, makes for a smoother ride as a parent, and children who are competent and confident. When children have predictable access to money and a home environment where they can learn from their mistakes and successes, then behaviors such as stealing, manipulation, lying and whining are greatly reduced. Had my friend been given these opportunities he would have saved a few hundred dollars in dry cleaning bills.

‘Whole Self’ Culture Key to Thriving Organizations

By Mike Robbins

How does a culture of healthy, high expectations, balanced by nurturance, enable individuals and organizations to achieve greater fulfillment, competitive advantage, and success? How can companies create an environment where their employees feel safe and encouraged to take risks, give more of themselves while maintaining balance, and deliver results? And, what does it mean to individuals to bring their ‘whole selves’ to their work?

My new book, Bring Your Whole Self to Work, is scheduled for release in May, 2018. In it, I examine what I’ve learned over seventeen years as a researcher, writer, and speaker regarding workplace dynamics and how an environment of authenticity, healthy risk-taking, and support helps both individuals and companies thrive. I gave a TED talk about this a few years ago.

When we enthusiastically challenge our employees to bring their best—their whole—selves to work, we and they reach new, higher levels of creativity and performance. Individuals’ passions and talents are engaged. They connect—with their own aspirations, and with others. As they do, teams and organizations push farther. Reach higher. Grow and succeed.

But, individuals need to feel safe to bring all of who they are—and that takes courage. My experience and research has shown that when we nurture and support employees, their fulfillment influences those around them to aim higher for the organization’s collective success.

Consider implementing these steps to help attract and retain employees committed to personal and organizational growth and success.


1. Encourage your employees to embrace their vulnerability. We erroneously think being vulnerable is a sign of weakness. It’s not. Vulnerability can be scary, but it’s essential to encourage healthy risk, change, creativity, collaboration, growth, and results.

Dr. Brene Brown from the University of Houston says, “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”


2. Encourage your employees to have ‘sweaty-palmed’ conversations. A mentor once said to me, “Mike, what stands between you and the kind of relationships you really want is probably a ten-minute, sweaty-palmed conversation you’re too afraid to have.”

Too often we avoid conflicts with others because we’re afraid of the consequences that come with speaking up. Yet, when we muster the courage to start those sweaty-palmed conversations we strengthen our ability to resolve differences while deepening our connections, building confidence, and contributing to collective success.

Remind your employees to:

3. Stop trying to survive. When we do things that truly matter to us, it’s tempting to hold back and play it safe. Don’t!

I learned this playing baseball over eighteen years at the college and professional levels. Some of the most disappointing moments I had weren’t when I failed, but when I held back—due to my fear of failing. Encourage your employees to let go of their obsession with survival and instead take risks. Go for what they—and the company—want and need to succeed. As one of my coaches pointed out: “Mike, you’re living your life as though you’re trying to survive it. You have to remember. No one ever has!”  

Whether you run a business, manage a team, or simply want people around you to feel safe and empowered to bring all of who they are to their work, there are two components to creating an atmosphere of authenticity that leads to greater levels of engagement, performance, and success:

  1. Healthy, High Expectations. High expectations are essential for people to thrive. We almost always get what we expect from others, but if we demand perfection many may fall short. Employees will feel they’re not set up to succeed. Healthy, high expectations challenge people to do their best, without pushing for insatiable, unhealthy perfection.
  2. High Level of Nurturance. People want to feel they’re seen, heard, and valued—not just for what they do, but for who they are. A high level of nurturance creates a safe space for employees to make mistakes, ask for help, speak up, and disagree. Nurturing environments are filled with compassion and empathy. People feel supported.

We often think in order to have a high bar we can’t be nurturing. Or, we think if we nurture people, we can’t expect a lot from them. The goal is to do both, and to do so passionately.

Asking our employees to bring their whole selves to work, and creating an environment that allows them to do so, is no small feat. It takes courage on everyone’s part and can, at times, go against conventional wisdom. However, technology companies must do all they can to attract, develop, and engage the best people in today’s competitive global economy.

Creating an environment where employees feel safe and encouraged to flourish will help your company attract individuals committed to your organization’s success.  

Mike Robbins authored the forthcoming book, Bring Your Whole Self to Work (May, 2018). He also wrote three previous titles: Focus on the Good Stuff; Nothing Changes Until You Do; and Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken. He’s an expert in teamwork, leadership, and culture. He delivers keynotes and seminars, and consults with top companies across the globe – including Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, Genentech, Gap, eBay, State Farm, the NBA, the San Francisco Giants, and many others.  





When I first started teaching, almost 20 years ago, one of the “pearls of wisdom” that many new teachers heard was to never let the children see you smile before the holiday break. The intent, I’m sure, was to convey the importance of setting consistent and predictable limits with children, and establishing your roles as the adult in the classroom. This makes sense, as many new young teachers attempt to win children over by being their friend rather than their teacher. However, both approaches are incomplete. One lacks warmth and the other lacks firmness.

Decades of research in teaching and parenting styles have revealed that children thrive when the adults in their lives are both warm and firm at the same time. As a matter of fact, in direct contradiction to the advice I was given as a new teacher, children need a sense of connection with the adults in their lives before correction can be truly effective, long-term.

Recently, I asked my oldest son to get his younger brothers and sisters for dinner. I had just finished making some macaroni and cheese, and had it ready for the children at the kitchen counter/bar. In a few minutes, my son was back downstairs and engaged in something other than eating the macaroni and cheese; and his brothers and sister were still upstairs. My instinct was to reprimand him, or guilt him into getting his siblings so they could eat and appreciate all my hard work. However, what I did was to approach him and give him a big hug, tell him how much I loved him, and then asked kindly, with a smile, where his siblings were. His response was, “Oh, they didn’t come down, let me go get them.” And he did.

Why does this work? In simple terms, children (and adults) do better when they feel better. They do worse when the feel worse, or are under stress. One school of thought tells us that people will be motivated to do better when they experience the consequences for their actions (meaning negative consequences). However, what we have learned from recent brain research is something very different. When people are under stress (angry, afraid, upset, frustrated, etc.), they are functioning from the right brain and limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for regulating memory and emotion. However, reasoning, using logic, or learning a life lesson happens on the other side of the brain, and the use of the per-frontal cortex is needed for such activity. So, in order for children to learn from their mistakes, they need to be using the left side of their brain. Here’s the rub: the left side of the brain doesn’t work well until the right side is is calmed down. And, one of the primary ways for the right brain to calm down is through a sense of connection, especially if the connection is non-verbal (the left side of the brain is responsible for verbal processing). The non-verbal connection can come from a knowing and loving smile, a hug, or warm eye contact. After the connection, the left brain and pre-frontal cortex begin firing on all cylinders and children can then process what your guidance and correction.

When I gave my son a hug, it helped both him and me. I was reminded, too, of how much I loved him and how important he is to me. He was able to feel a sense of connection, and his left brain was able to process my message to him. In this instance, I was able to simply give him a gentle reminder through a question, and he was able to absorb the subtle cue, and make his own decision, keeping his dignity in-tact. Now, I will freely admit, that in the moment, not all of this information was running through my mind. I simply used or took a principle that I knew to be effective for my son and for me, and I employed it in order to get the kids to the table and to maintain peace in my relationship with my son.

This principle of connecting before correcting can be used in many ways. With older children, it may take the form of a conversation where a parent sits down with their child and asks them questions to truly understand where their child or adolescent is really coming from, truly seeking to understand their point of view. Of course, this means starting by putting aside the adults agenda, so it is critical that the adult is calm and open themselves before engaging in this conversation. Many adults find that after such a conversation, both the adult and the child have a deeper sense of connection with one another. The adult has a better understanding of the child’s perspective (even if that perspective is not completely accurate, as may be the case with teens), and the child feels understood – and isn’t that what most older children and teens really want! When this has occurred, real problem solving can take place.

With younger children, a key element to developing connection is the adults physical approach to the child. Adults are sometimes 4 to 5 times the size of a young child. That size difference can be intimidating, especially if the adult has an angry or frustrated expression. Intimidation might get short term results, but long-term this only invites rebellion or submission. So, crouching down, giving a hug, and letting a young child know how much you love them before you correct them is key to being effective long-term, and will help them learn the important life-lessons that parents, who have the wisdom, teach.

Photo Credit:  Brookie


50,000 Mentors (What I’ve learned about life from the humble honeybee)


Let me preface this article by stating that it is not meant to represent a political, emotional or agricultural/food agenda. It is merely meant as an observation of life and what we can learn from the social functioning of another species.

I’ve been working with mentors the past several years — about 50,000 of them…well actually more like 100,000. My mentors are small but have much to teach and I’ve been doing my best to pay attention to the learning experience. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a beekeeper and my little mentors are of the species apis mellifera or the European Honeybee.

The honeybee has a long history. Ancestors of the honeybee have been around for 50 million years. The honeybee, in its current form, has been around for 30 million years. In comparison, we modern humans, members of the genus Homo, have been on this planet for a mere 1.9-2.4 million years. This indicates that the bees, with the wisdom they have garnered over time, have a few things to teach us… if we take the time to pay attention. Wisdom lies in the details. I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned and continue to learn from the bees and leave for you the questions arise about us, as humans, in contrast.

Honeybees, like humans, are social creatures. Honeybees work together and communicate in a variety of ways using dance, pheromones and other behaviors to interact with each other. Honeybees however, work together to benefit of the common mission, which is to support and sustain the future of the hive. Bees collaborate to allow a colony of 10-50-100,000 individuals to function as a superorganism. Taking on different roles as they mature, bees work together to, nurture their young, maintain a constant temperature in the hive that is conducive to a healthy environment for growth, organize the hive in efficiently by utilizing resources where and when they are needed. Bees cooperate to help the organism survive and thrive. In winter, cluster, shiver to stay warm and rotate position from the outside of the cluster to the interior.

Every effort each bee engages in each day of its life directly circles back to, in some way, answer the question, “What are you doing today to sustain the health and longevity of the hive?”

Bees give back and promote the sustainability of others. Bees support the growth of plants in their work to collect pollen and nectar – by pollinating plants to ensure robust production. Bee’s pollination services directly impact the food supply of the planet. As humans, we should appreciate the fact that one-third of our food production relies directly on the pollination services of bees.

Bees make use of available resources. Honeybees are one of the few, if not only creature, that does not destroy or kill anything in order to survive.

Young bees have a mechanism in their bodies to make wax from nectar. It takes eight pounds of sugar or nectar to create one pound of wax, so beeswax is extremely valuable. They will re-use and re-build comb, if necessary. Bees also collect nectar to make honey which they use as a food supply. The life’s work of one bee equals 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey. Bees collect pollen to make “bee bread”. Bee bread is pollen combined with honey and an enzymatic solution excreted from glands near the bee’s mouth which ferments to break down the shell of the pollen and form one of the most efficient food supplies on the planet. Bees also collect resin from trees to use as propolis. Propolis, a resin, contains the following properties: it seals cracks in a hive, it is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-cancer.

Propolis is one of the elements bees utilize in their form of socialized medicine. Bees also groom each other, removing mites (which suck blood and induce disease) and help to maintain individual health. Bees also allow the queen to “rest” two times during the year. During this time the bees “clean” the hive by creating an environment that is inhospitable to mites.

Bees share resources with other species. Bees work side by side with other pollinators such as bumble bees and other native bees to share resources. Even as a human works a garden, bees will passively continue to forage, taking only what it needs.

Bees promote from within. Newly hatched bees immediately clean, groom, feed the queen. Nurse bees feed and care for young. Other bees make wax, build comb, accept food from foragers, pack comb with honey and pollen. Older bees guard the entrance of the hive, forage for food, water and medicine, and scout for new home during swarm activity.

Bees are democratic. Decision making is accomplished by consensus. This is evidenced during the swarm process. Once the swarm leaves the hive and clusters on a branch or other structure, the older forager bees take on the role of scout bees to find a new home. They return and dance distance, desirability and direction of the new home. Other bees check out the locations danced for and return to “cast their vote” for the best location. A decision is reached and the bees, leave, en mass for their new home.

Bees eliminate what doesn’t work. In their efforts to maintain a healthy environment, they remove and discard sick eggs, their dead, mites, ants, wax moth, as well as small foreign objects a beekeeper might leave in the hive. If a mouse enters the hive during the winter, it is killed by the bees surrounding it, vibrating their bodies, thereby raising the heat around the mouse until it dies. Since the mouse is too large for the bees to remove, they surround the mouse with propolis so that it is sterile and its rotting corpse cannot negatively impact the health of the colony.

Bees are prudent in a show of force. They have a built in mechanism that insures this – a honeybee knows she will sacrifice her life when she chooses to use her stinger.

Any bee, with proper care, feeding and attention, can become queen. If the queen becomes infertile or ill or aged and needs to be replaced, any female egg, between one and three days old, can be reared to become queen. The difference between a queen bee and a worker bee hinges on the quality of nutrition provided.

Bees replicate what is successful. In spring, a strong over-wintered colony that has the proven genetics to survive seasonal weather extremes, local available food sources and other environmental forces build up their numbers. Half of the colony and the existing queen then swarm to form a second successful colony. The remaining bees are left with queen cells, which will hatch, mate and continue the original colony’s life cycle.

Along with the lessons discussed, as a beekeeper I’ve also learned to respect the small things, appreciate the wisdom of others, be mindful in my actions, be patient, inclusive, and attentive to change. When I open a hive I always have a plan, work my plan, and know I may need to be flexible and willing to change my plan if the bees inform me today is not a good day to work the hive. If the bees are cranky, it may be that they have lost their queen, the weather is about to change, their young have been disrupted or threatened in some way (by raccoons or skunks or bears). I follow-up on my plan and take notes about what I’ve learned. I’ve learned that every winter is different. I’ve also learned it is not always important to “see the queen”. What is important is to know the signs of a healthy and vibrant colony and to do my part to sustain the health and longevity of the hive.

I’m the founder and president of a small beekeeping association that serves four counties in the Central Sierra foothills of California. What I’ve learned from other beekeepers is this:

We humans tend to be presumptuous and possessive. Rather than accepting the role and responsibility of being a steward for bees, we beekeepers talk about “my bees”, when, in reality honeybees cannot be domesticated as pets.

When taking classes, we learn at a different rate or not at all based on our background, experiences and the filters we put in place to acquiring wisdom.

We often make decisions or develop emotional opinions based on incomplete information without considering the impact of those decisions. Well-meaning, but misguided reporters often write articles that contain incomplete or incorrect information. Others write articles pushing a particular political, emotional or biased agenda. It is our responsibility to research and learn before jumping on any bandwagon that promotes misguided activities or promulgates misinformation.

We don’t pay attention to the effects our actions might cause. On a beekeeping level, sometimes the actions we choose to execute can set back or kill a hive.

New beekeepers need active participatory mentors. Well-intentioned newbees kill hives. It happens. The guidance and wisdom an experienced mentor can provide will advance the knowledge of a new beekeeper exponentially.

Nature and the honeybee will survive despite our misguided efforts.

On a more positive note…
Wouldn’t it be nice to have the product of your life’s work be something as sweet as honey?
…as sustaining as bee bread?
…as valuable as beeswax?
…as beneficial as propolis?

Wouldn’t it be nice to know the outcome of your life’s work provides value to your colony and to other species?

I believe that no matter what damage we inflict on the planet, bees will continue to find a way to survive another 50 million years. Maybe, if we pay attention, are mindful, attentive, have a plan, can cooperate in a democratic fashion, eliminate what doesn’t work, be prudent in a show of force, make good use of and share resources; we can, together, support the future health and growth of our colony of human beings on this planet.

Lorinda ForrestLorinda Forrest is President and Founder of the Sierra Foothill Beekeepers Association. She is a business start-up consultant and works with community colleges in the California Central Valley and Mother Lode to help improve small business and entrepreneurial studies programs so that college students are prepared to meet the needs of business or begin their own enterprise. As a beekeeper, she considers herself a steward for bees. Lorinda also gardens, enjoys fly fishing, skiing, cycling and hiking. She lives in Sonora, California.

Bees Image Credit:  vastateparksstaff


16 Tips to Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer

ChristineHornerheadshot02As a plastic surgeon, I witnessed the horrors of breast cancer almost everyday while caring for my breast reconstruction patients. In 1994, this disease became too personal when it claimed the life of my own mother. I vowed to go after her killer. My goal was to see if this disease could be prevented. I searched the collection of medical research to determine what caused cancer to start growing and threw fuel on its flames. I discovered thousands of studies that pointed out exactly why we have a breast cancer epidemic. These studies revealed that breast, prostate and colon cancers are similar tumors and our diet and lifestyle play the most important role in most cases.

The recently released third-edition of my award-winning book, Waking the Warrior Goddess: Dr. Christine Horner’s Program to Protect Against and Fight Breast Cancer, describes every natural approach scientifically shown to help drastically lower a woman’s risk of developing this disease. For women who have breast cancer, these approaches increase the likelihood that they will live a long healthy life.

This information is really for everyone, because everything that influences the risk of breast cancer also influences the risk of most other chronic diseases. Therefore if you follow the recommendations, your likelihood of developing any chronic disease will be low and your chances of experiencing robust health will be high.

Here are a few tips:

Tip #1: Eat fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables every day—especially cruciferous vegetables.

These plants—particularly those in the cruciferous family (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale)–are filled with a variety nutrients, vitamins, and plant chemicals that act as powerful natural medicines against breast cancer.

Tip #2: Eat organic whole grains every day.

Whole grains are rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants, vitamins, trace minerals, fiber, and lignans.

Tip #3: Avoid all health-destroying fats. Consume health-promoting fats every day.

Saturated animal fats, trans fats, partially hydrogenated fats, and hydrogenated fats fuel breast cancer, whereas healthy fats—especially omega-3 fatty acids found in flaxseeds—offer protection.

Tip #4: Eat 2–3 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds every day.

Flaxseeds are the richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acid, are high in fiber, and contain one hundred times more cancer-fighting lignans than any other known edible plant.

Tip #5: Eat mushrooms or a supplement.

Medicinal mushrooms, such as Maitake or AHCC, stimulate the immune system, stop tumor growth, cause tumors to shrink, and prevent them from spreading areas of the body.

Tip #6: Drink green tea every day or take it as a supplement.

Women who drink green tea have a much lower risk of breast cancer—and if they get breast cancer, their chances of surviving are much greater.

Tip #7: Consume turmeric every day.

Turmeric, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, is considered the #1 anticancer spice.

Tip #8: Eat at least one clove of garlic several times a week.

Garlic is extremely high in antioxidants and selenium, boosts the immune system, lessens the formation of carcinogens in the breast, prevents toxins from damaging our DNA, and stops breast tumors from growing and dividing.

Tip #9: Avoid red meat

Woman who eat the most red meat have an 88 to 330 percent higher risk of breast cancer.

Tip #10: Avoid refined sugar—instead use a natural sweetener such as Stevia.

Sugar is cancer’s favorite food. The more of it you eat, the faster cancer will grow.

Tip #11: Keep your body-fat low.

Fat cells manufacture estrogen, notably after menopause. That’s why obesity is thought to be responsible for 20 to 30 percent of all post-menopausal breast cancers.

Tip #12: Rarely, if ever, drink alcohol.

Even half a glass of alcohol a day increases your risk of breast cancer; so it’s best to avoid this dangerous beverage completely.

Tip #13: Keep your home as toxin-free as possible.

Toxins are everywhere. Assume that everything is toxic unless labeled otherwise and choose a nontoxic solution instead.

Tip #14: Once or twice a year, purify your body for one to two weeks.

Detoxing works! Just one five-day series of the Ayurvedic purification procedures known as panchakarma has been shown to decrease toxins by half.

Tip #15: Go to bed by 10:00 P.M. and rise before 6:00 A.M.

Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is a powerful antioxidant that arrests and deters breast cancer. Your body will not produce enough melatonin to be protective if you stay up past 10:00 P.M.

Tip #16: Embrace thirty minutes of aerobic activity every day.

Regular moderate exercise lowers your risk of breast cancer by 30 to 50 percent. Those who enjoy a rigorous routine can have up to and 80% reduction!

About the Author: Christine Horner, MD is a board certified and nationally recognized surgeon, author, professional speaker and relentless champion for women’s health. She spearheaded legislation in the 1990s mandating that insurance companies pay for breast reconstruction following mastectomy. She is the author of, Waking the Warrior Goddess: Dr Christine Horner’s Program to Protect Against and Fight Breast Cancer, winner of the Independent Publisher Book Award “Best book of 2006 for health/medicine/nutrition.” For more information visit



screens-amagillIn our house we limit screen time to weekends when the children are allowed to watch one movie per weekend day. If you limit screen time in your house, you may have a child like mine who will go to any lengths to get just a few minutes in front of a screen, even if it means breaking the house ground rules. We use a logical consequence when one of the children sneak screen time, and that consequence is “If you abuse it you lose it.” The child who sneaks it will lose screen time on one of the weekend days. We joke that my oldest son has forfeited more screen time than he has actually experienced because of his proclivity to smuggle electronic devices into his room for his personal, unauthorized, viewing pleasure.

Recently, my oldest son was caught with my wife’s Kindle in his room. She went looking for it and found it under his covers. (You may ask, how did she know to look in his bed? In our home, his room is the second place you would look after looking in the place you thought you’d left it.) So, accordingly, he lost a day of screen time for the upcoming weekend. And just like I did when I was his age, he tested the limits, and smuggled screen time again, not too long afterward.

Fast forward, three weeks later: my son hasn’t watched a movie since the initial Kindle incident because of continued smuggling. Then his birthday arrived, and I was feeling sorry for him because he couldn’t watch a movie with his brothers. I knew what to do – I should hold the limits firmly, even if it was his birthday. But, I caved and let him watch the move as a “birthday treat”.

Almost immediately I began to regret my decision. My son responded to my act of mercy by pushing the limits around screen time even more; trying to watch things that he wasn’t allowed to, taking control of the programming from his brothers, etc. I wanted to be angry, but I knew what was happening. My son, like all children, want to know that the adults in his life will be consistent and do what we say we’re going to do much more than they want to watch television. My son was saying, in his own way, that he preferred the limits. And I know, that limits are meant to be tested, otherwise how would we know where they really are.

Shortly after his birthday, my son asked me if he could have his screen time back, even though he had three more weekend days of screen time to forgo. My response to him was, “What would I be teaching you by eliminating the consequence for your choices?” He thought for a moment and said, “Good point.” Inside I laughed knowingly. Children are our best teachers.

Louis CK, one of my favorite comics, was on the Conan O’Brien Show recently. During his interview he began talking about parenting, which is part of his schtick. Sardonically, yet prophetically, he mused that his job was not to make his children happy. He said, “I’m not raising children. I’m raising the grown-ups they’re going to be.”

As I began to reflect on this discussion, I thought about my decision to remove the no screen time consequences for my son’s birthday. I made a mistake – one that I learned from, but a mistake nonetheless. I asked myself the same question that I asked him. What was I teaching him be removing that consequence? In attempting to make him happy by rescuing him, I was actually setting him up for disappointment and dependence upon me for his happiness. When do I want him to learn that he can be happy despite his circumstances, and that he can accept responsibility for his actions and learn to make better decisions by himself?

So, on this Thanksgiving of 2013, I am grateful for my children and for lessons that they continue to teach me, as I continue on the road to becoming a better parent.

Photo Credit:  AMagill