Archive for the ‘Education’ Category


December 12th, 2013

When I first started Graduate school I worked in an elementary school as an aide for children with pervasive developmental disorder to help them succeed in mainstream classrooms. One of the students in the classroom I worked in was a particularly happy boy who was full of life and enthusiasm. (Not the easiest qualities for the teacher to have to manage in a classroom environment, but that’s another story.)  The boy’s father used to chaperon class events frequently, and I always enjoyed talking to him about his philosophies on life. One of the things that really stuck with me about how this man approached life is that one of his “keys to his success” was that every day after work he would spend 30 minutes in the park siting in silence. While it isn’t news to most of us that down time and enjoying nature, is good for us, this was the first person I actually met who was truly dedicated to this practice.

Thirteen years later I have come across an on-line article on downtime and I wanted to share with you. It’s called, Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime by Ferris Jabr.

Here are some of the highlights:

First of all, and to no surprise, the United States as a whole is terrible at taking time off. Not only do Americans have fewer vacation days than Europeans, but we also use our vacation days less and tend to stay available via smart phones and the internet while we are on our vacations.

One of the main points of the article is that “downtime” as an active and necessary process. Tim Kreider’s of The New York Times was quoted, “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

The article cites how scientists have now found that this process is in deed a biological fact of our brain functioning. There is a complex circuit in the brain that turns on when the circuits in the brain in charge of concentration on challenging tasks turns off, and vice versa. This “downtime” circuitry called default mode network (DMN), is argued to be necessary for identity formation, understanding human behavior, and instill an internal code of ethics (Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, 2012).

Additionally, downtime replenishes the brain, restores our capacity for attention and motivation, encourages creativity and inspiration, creates room for epiphanies, and is essential in our ability to form stable memories including our self concept.

The article also discusses how the positive effect of downtime is not as much dependent on the amount of downtime one experiences as much as it is the consistency that makes the biggest difference. In other words, having a daily practice of taking some form of downtime is much more beneficial than a one week vacation. In fact, the article cites studies examining how the effects of a one week vacation wear off as quickly as within one week of returning to work.

So I’d like to suggest making a commitment in the New Year to establishing some form of daily “downtime” practice in 2014.

  • 20 minutes of meditation.
  • 10, 20, or 30-minute power nap
  • A walk in nature
  • Sitting in the park for 30 minutes
  • Watching sunsets

Remember. It’s the consistency that is import. Not what you choose.


Have a Happy New Year Everyone,



To read the full length article, go to:


Four Scary Things To Look Out For On Halloween

October 30th, 2013

On this day of ghosts and goblins I thought I’d highlight John Gottman’s Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. These four little demons will haunt a relationship, and if allowed to run amuck, could lead to ill feelings, contribute to susceptibility to illness, and are one of the main predictors for divorce.



Dan Wile tells us, “Choosing someone means choosing a set of perpetual problems.” While we all have complaints about our partners, criticism is a different monster. Criticisms (through words, tones or facial expressions) are more than just complaints about something we don’t like; they sink their claws into the partner’s character or personality. They give our partner the impression that he or she is inadequate. Criticism invites defensiveness or withdrawal.

Antidote: Softness, Vulnerability, Requests.
If you find yourself being critical you are probably being harsh. Take a minute to slow down and soften your body, voice, and words. See if you are making things personal or taking things personal. Allow yourself to feel the deeper, scarier feelings at the root of problem. Learn to share those feelings. If you hear your partner being critical, look for the kernel of truth in what your partner is trying to convey. See if you both can shift the criticism into a reasonable request from that softer more vulnerable place.


Criticism: “You always leave a mess in the kitchen. Why can’t you ever think to clean after for yourself.”

Antidote: “The dirty dishes in the kitchen are bothering me right now. I’m feeling like you don’t care about how that effects me again. Could you please clean them soon?”



Contempt is one step up from criticism. Contempt can take the form of sarcasm, mockery, cynicism, name-­‐calling, mean spirited jokes, or talking down to one’s partner. It is one of the more scary and hurtful of the expressions that can show up on our faces. It conveys a message of disgust.

Antidote: Appreciation and Respect.
If you are feeling contemptuous, stop what you are doing and admit it. Remind yourself that the person you are talking to is someone you love. Respect is a choice and so is violence. Commit to protecting your relationship.


Antidote: “I’m really frustrated and feeling a lot of contempt right now. I want to treat you with respect, but I don’t know how to get this conversation on track again. Can we slow this down and figure out how to work on this like a team again?”



While it is understandable that people become defensive when they feel judged or attacked, defensiveness is just as poisonous to the relationship as criticism. At best, defensiveness feels dismissive. Often it is a form of blame or counter-­‐attack. “It’s not me, it’s you.” Either way, defensiveness fails to resolve anything. Instead it pokes back at the beast inviting further rage and carnage into the relationship.

Antidote: Responsibility.

If you catch yourself feeling defensive, take a moment to center and find the kernel of truth in your partner’s complaint. If you catch your partner being defensive, back off and ask him or her if he or she feels attacked, unfairly judged, or criticized. Assure him or her that their character is not at stake and try to restate your complaint in a softer manner. You may also want to search your own feelings and needs around your complaint and share them in a way that makes your partner feel compelled to come to your side.


Criticism: “You’re driving like a maniac.”

Defensiveness: “Well maybe if you could manage to get out of the house on time I wouldn’t have to drive so fast.”

Antidote: “You’re right. I am driving to fast. I’m sorry if I’ve scared you. I’m just really frustrated that we aren’t going to make it there on time and don’t know how to talk to you about it.”



Stonewalling, whether it be through short answers, non-­‐disclosure, becoming cold and uncaring, ignoring, or physically leaving, is a removal of one’s self from the relationship. It is becoming a ghost or the walking dead to one’s partner. While the intention is to avoid pain and frustration, it will only lead to further conflict down a dark and barren road. For stonewalling sends a message of, “I don’t care about you or your feelings.” This is a perfect invocation for further criticism and contempt.

Antidote: Turning Towards, Facing Fear, and Making a Stand for the Relationship.
If you find yourself pulling away, take a moment to reconnect with your commitment to the relationship. Examine your fears. Often turning towards an angry critical partner for resolution feels counter-­‐intuitive, but it’s what need to be done. Let your partner know his or her feelings are important to you and you are committed to understanding them (stand up for him or her). Simultaneously, let your partner know what about his or her communication doesn’t feel good to you (stand up for yourself.) By holding onto both, you stand up for your relationship.


Antidote: “I get that your upset and that this issue is important to you. I want to talk to you about it because you are important to me. I need you to see that it’s hard for me to listen when you talk to me that way.”


Happy Halloween, Everyone!

For more information on Gottman’s Four Horseman read:
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman

Premarital Counseling Tip #6

July 15th, 2013


Premarital Tip #6: The Platinum Rule


For the final tip in this Premarital Counseling series, I’d like to discourage the use of age old advise … The Golden Rule –


“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”


While there is obviously wisdom in this, and I could still present arguments for its use in relationships, I want to point out a basic flaw in its philosophy. If you remember from Premarital Counseling Gift #4, couples need to build an owner’s manual of each other so that they know how to “operate” each other. Instead, I suggest couples follow the Platinum Rule –


“Do unto others as they would want you to do unto them.”


Now granted, you could argue that the Golden Rule can be applied to the Platinum Rule, but then you’d be arguing “details”. Arguing over details is a prime example of the type of deadly trap couples fall into all the time. (Bonus Tip Example: It doesn’t matter if someone was 15 minutes late or 8 minutes late for a date. What matters is how you two feel about each other when “lateness” shows up in the relationship.)


How to apply the Platinum Rule in your relationship:

One of the most enjoyable ways to implement the Platinum Rule is by figuring out what makes our partner feel the most loved or appreciated. Gary Chapman wrote a straight forward and enjoyable book on this topic called The Five Love Languages, How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. I have recommended this book to several couples to help them learn about each other. Its primary goal is to help them become more efficient in helping each other feel fulfilled and cherished in their relationship. In Chapman’s model he breaks down people’s preference for how they receive love into the following:


  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Quality Time
  3. Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Touch


Talk to each other tonight. Find out if you two really know how to make each other feel special. See if you even know for your self and what you truly want from a relationship. Try to determine if you clearly communicate these needs to each other and, if so, how you can better communicate these needs. Couples in premarital counseling or couples therapy are often quite surprised to find that their “innocent” requests can come across as harsh criticisms to their partners.



  • Don’t assume your Other likes what you like. (See Premarital Gift Blog #3 on differentiation.)
  • Let your partner know she/he got it right by making them feel special for making you feel special. (Art of Appreciation: By consciously sharing appreciation back and forth and from the heart, positive feelings get amplified between two people.)
  • Don’t assume that what works in one situation will work in all situations. Continue to learn about and refine your understanding of each other.



I hoped you enjoyed the Premarital Counseling Series. Help spread the word. If you know someone who would benefit from this series, please forward this information along.





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