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Stephen Soreff, M.D.
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Insights for Better Mental Health

July, 2021 It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness
July 2021

I will start with a quick admission. I have used this phase before in January 2020: Your New Year's Resolution: Just do something. Then, I wrote “Growing up in the 1950's I vividly recall hearing the Reverend Fulton J. Sheen on the television. He had a television series entitled Life is Worth Living. http://fulton-sheen.cua.edu/bio/index.cfm.” That was his motto and message. It is another clarion call to action. However, now, I want to spin it another way.

All too often, one is surrounded by negative messages. For example, with weather.it is too hot or too cold or windy or too humid. I used to work in an office where the boss would chastise others for “casting negativity about the room”. Complaining is fashionable and can be contagious. It has been said, if you like, something, let us say, a restaurant, you will tell a few people about your positive experience there. However, if you had a less than satisfactory encounter there, you will tell about 25 people about it. It is easy to complain than to find something good to say.

There is the infamous joke about a waiter addressing a group of snobby, slightly elderly, rich women after having served them a meal. He inquires, “was anything alright?” Yes, I am advocating an attitude of gratitude. Perhaps, I would break into a Monty Python song “Some things in life are bad, They can really make you mad, Other things just make you swear and curse, When you're chewing on life's gristle, Don't grumble, give a whistle, And this'll help things turn out for the best, And, Always look on the bright side of life, Always look on the light side of life.” Or to continue with the corny chemistry story. What happens when a hydrogen an atom loses its electron? It became positive.

Yes, I am arguing finding good things to be thankful for and taking the action of lighting a candle as both recognizing the what is positive and taking the action to shine a light on it. In my synagogue ‘s Friday night prayer book there a responsive section entitled Prayerful thanksgiving that is written this way “to give thanks for the many gifts which we already possess and are often overlooked”. The key words are “often overlooked”. Look around and see all miracles that surround us.

Go a head and light a candle!

June, 2021 Make Like a Snake and Shed

I hope this title proves to be provocative. It was designed to be too. The idea behind it is that snakes grow, mature, and live longer by actually shedding their skins. Yes, I know, we also do the same every day but not dramatically. We shed skin cells all the time. Additionally, other animals do the same thing. But the concept here is a metaphor. It means in order to develop and mature as a person; one must periodically not only take an inventory of one ‘s ways of thinking but also be willing to shed and change them. This is done either consciously or unconsciously. Either way, one abandons certain ideas and incorporates others.

To drop back to Psychology 101, Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development chronicles how as one matures that individual moves through a series of ways of thinking. For example, children see the world in terms of black and white aka concretely. As children mature, they see the world in more abstract. Many of us view many areas and answers in terms of gray. Although we have all heard of the idea, eye for an eye”, our justice system is not based on that Code of Hammurabi. We accept that human behaviors and their consequences are much more complex.

And continuing on the ancient history tact, let me look at many of the stories from the Hebrew Bible. What and when I learned them in Sunday School, they seemed straightforward and simple. Later, I studied them again in both Torah and Talmud classes. There, I discovered how complex they can be. Many of them were not so black and white, but instead several shades of gray. As a result of further study, I have changed my ideas of some of the events and people in the stories in them.

Translating shedding into our lives means we must often change our views as we mature. We see our jobs, money, family, religion, and responsibilities differently as we grow up. Shedding some ideas and replacing them with a new ones is a good and necessary part of life.

May, 2021 Just write it.
May 2021

The idea for a better mental health derives from the amazing power of simply writing things down. Wow, what is that all about? Here are several examples of that. Mary Kay, of the pink Cadillac fame and the cosmetic world, began her business consultant career by telling executives to start each day with a list of six things to be accomplished that day. This proved to be very effective advice and proved to be very successful. This list not only provided goals for the day but also a place check-ff your accomplishments. Here are several more examples. Remember how much more effective your weight loss or miles run programs were when you kept a record aka writing the results down each day. Or to get Biblical, Moses first came down the mountain with oral 10 Commandments. But, G-d called him back so they could be written on down on two stone tablets for all to see.

Returning to the theme, just write it, writing is powerful. One of the neat tools in psychotherapy is called journaling. The therapist asks one simply to write down each day one’s emotions, thoughts and behavior. It offers productive avenue for self-evaluation, reflection and growth. Or to go to the other extreme, there is old legal adage, “an oral contract is not worth the paper it is printed on!” From my days doing Quality Improvement at Westboro State Hospital, there was this keystone rule of medical documentation; “if it is not written, it did not happen”.

Taking another tack, your mobile phone or computer can also be as an effective method of ‘just write it’, . I know many folks who not only count their steps each day but also keep a longitude record for each walk. This allows one to both see progress and provides a neat graphic chart of it. Others use the computer program to track what and how much they eat. And, of course, one could follow weight loss or gain depending on the circumstances.

Whatever method you select, the basic idea is that transforming thoughts into visible products have profound powerful effects.

April, 2021 The Creativity Power Connection

This month the intriguing topic of creativity commands center stage. Let me introduce it with a riddle. April showers brings mayflowers, What do mayflowers bring? The answer is Pilgrims. Okay, I accept a groan. To me, that riddle illustrates creativity. How so? It offers surprise by linking flowers to a religious group. The creativity here is based on connecting two dissimilar ideas, or objects together for the first time. Take Einstein’s E = mc2. It brilliantly connects matter and energy. There is also, a less obvious connection. This is one’s ability to see and enjoy one’s inner child. You can enjoy those too often repressed joys of splashing in a mud puddling with doing the dishes. Remember, when there really was a monster under the bed or the boggy man in the closet. One of components of creativity is its ability to link things together making something new. But there are others. Creativity besides connection includes imagination, dreams, curiosity, and opportunity.
One of the greatest facets of imagination is that there are not rules, You can transcend time and space. You go back in time or you can construct a future world. And, you are not bound by geography. You can go anywhere on earth, into the underworld or in the universe. The key to imagination is freedom. What a wonderful gift is being free which imagination gives you.

By dreams, I do not mean the conventional idea of have a dream and follow it. Although that helps, I am thinking of the amazing ability of dreams to solve problems. There is the tale of a German chemist trying to figure out a new compound. The story goes that he had a dream of a snake biting its tail. That night time adventure led to the famous discovery of the benzene ring. Dmitri Mendeleev, another chemist, had a dream which led to the creation of the Periodic Table. But, you need not be a chemist to harness the power of dreams. Others have written songs, solved problems, and developed story plots while dreams. . And, there are many more ways dreaming can be linked the creativity. At least, it is an idea worth sleeping on.

Yes, there is the old saying, “curiosity killed the cat, but information brought her back”. Please, forgive the more modern quote’s ending. But, being curious represents the gateway to being creative. As a psychiatrist, I have often pointed to my waist watch. Then, I say “I love to figure out want makes some one tick”. Asking why and then pursuing the answer to it allows for great discovery adventures. And, yes, creativity can be an active verb. Be curious and find out what makes anything or everything work.
And opportunity plays a role in creativity. The reason that Florence, Italy becoming one of the cradles of the Renaissance was because in brought together artists and their wealthy patrons in a supportive milieu. Other places that have supported creativity was Vienna, Austria at the time of Freud and Greenwich Village, New York at the time of Pete Seeger. Working with and about creative people, in a supportive environment helps. And do not forget, necessary is the father of invention. In the pandemic, people have found ingenious ways to cope and thrive.

Be creative. Connect two ideas into something ne. Use your imagination. Use your dreams at night to solve problems of the day. Be curious. Work with other creative, supportive and appreciative people. And, seize the opportunity to address problems to come up with new solutions.

March 2021 March Into Aging

March Into Aging

I will admit that is a cute beginning to a serious topic-“getting older”. Yes, I am writing about becoming a senior citizen. There is a new answer to aging. Right now, we are rewriting the geriatric book on aging. When I was growing up, it was the joke that seniors moved to Florida and spent their days sitting by the pool and clipping coupons. While older folks in Florida are still look for their senior discounts, they are more active than their predecessors. They are golfing, running, playing pickle ball, and swimming.

Two quick examples for this thesis. When John Glenn returned to outer space, he did so at age 77! Our current President, Joseph Biden is 78 years old. And, he is very active. A 2020 survey by Willis Towers Watson trumpeted that in terms of retirement that 70 is the new 60. Golden agers are running marathons and climbing mountains. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) now has a special patch for seniors who are 70 year or older and have climbed all New Hampshire’s 48 over four thousand feet peak.

There are Senior Olympics on the state level and a National, too. The National Senior Games Association (NGA) https://nsga.com/ will host the National Senior Games 2022, May 10-23, 2022 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. To qualify to be an athlete for these events one must be at least 50 years old by December  31, 2021.  The competitive events include archery, badminton, basketball, bowling, non-ambulatory bowling, cornhole, cycling, golf, pickleball, horseshoes, power walk, race walk, racquetball, road race, shuffleboard, soccer, softball,  swimming, table tennis, tennis, track & field,  triathlon, and volleyball.  These games provide testimony that aging does not necessarily mean deterioration. 

I recall the inspiring statement written across the wall at a Southern Maine University’s gymnasium wall that was attributed Dr. Paul Dudley White, a renowned cardiologist. It said something to the effect that you can become healthier as you become older. The message is clear. Seniors now are more active, involved, participating and doing more things than ever before. Aging can be the gateway to opportunities, activities, adventures and accomplishments.

February 2021 Buy locally !!!

First, let me explain my reasons to buy locally. reason it Several years ago, I set out to look for and purchase a snow blower. Yes, I had grown tired of shoveling my driveway. Initially, I went to a big box store. It had a neat array of snow blowers which were at reasonable prices. But, it just did not feel right. So, I then went to a local snow blower and lawn mower shop. The owner personally talked me and make several points. He noted that although the same name on the machine was in his store and the big box, the bigger store did not have the same high quality parts as his ones did under ‘the hood’. Next, he offered that his shop would both pick-up and return it from our house when it need servicing or repairs. Furthermore, he indicated he would service the machine there, if it need of work. The big box store said if I had problem with it, I would have to contact the manufacture. I must admit, that the local shop’s price was slightly higher, but the in-house service option, sold me. Not only do I not regret the purchase, but I also discovered when I had problems with the machine, I was moved to the head of the line for repairs, because I bought it there. Reason one is local serve.

Certainly, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, the local farm stand cannot be beat. Their produce is fresher than most supermarkets. Their attention and knowledge of the items is amazing. And, clearly the transportation costs are low or non-existent. Reasons two and three are fresh quality and supporting local businesses. By the way, I have found the same quality to going to a local mechanic for my car. It more convenient and very much appreciated.

Buy LocalThe ultimate buy local: A farm stand-

To complete the sequence of purchasing locally, it  is also better when it comes to computers. A quick confession, the computer is integral to my work and life  especially in the pandemic. I did walk the talk and brought my new computer through a local computer genius. Yes, I have  had computer technical help remotely from the Philippines, Georgia, and Maine  for it.  They have be useful and helpful. But when one of them actually sat down in front of my computer, then his skills and abilities not only dazzled me but also did wondered for my computer.

Whenever possible buy locally! It better for service, and quality supports area businesses.

Change happens one step at a time

January 2021
One step at a time

Welcome to January of a new year, 2021-yippee!  This represents the perennial time for the infamous New Year’s Resolutions.  As any gym personnel will testify, those ambitious plans crumble by February or March.  What can I offer in the face of that reality?  Simple, whatever you resolve to accomplish, do it one step at a time.  There are a million cliché’s that trumpet it.  “Think globally; act locally”. Dean Witter used to boast and advertise itself as “We measure success one investor at a time ". Whenever I set out to climb a mountain, I do it one step at time. Each step is the key to whole venture. And, when I did long sail boat race, I would break it in ‘legs’ to be achieved. The race is only completed and hopefully won one leg, properly executed, in order, at a time.

Whatever the goal, do it in stages. Set limited, small, accomplishable gains.  Just like in climbing a mountain, I do it in phases.  Get to the base of the mountain.  Then, reach the high transvers.  Finally, I hike on to the summit.  And between the phases, there are each step at a time.  One great advantage of this system is each section achieved, represents a victory.  Success breeds success.

Let’s look at other examples.  Let’s take weight lost.  You resolve to lose 20 pounds-great. But, instead set the goal of losing 5 pounds in 3 weeks.  Yes, aim low, go slow.  This system proves to be more sustainable, too.  Or you want toe learn to play a musical instrument.  First, practice simple hand or mouth pieces.  Do simple songs.  One new note at time.  Or you want to run a half marathon. Start with  jogging.  Later move to running.  Get comfortable with a 5 k race.  Build your endure and confidence slowly,  Like The Little Engine that  Could, I think I can, I think I can!

In medicine there is another example.  We starting an elderly patient on a new medication, the basic rule go low and slow. That translates into an initial low dose and increase it gradually over time. It works. 

The message remains, when starting out on a new venture aim high but go slow.

Running Brain

December 2020 
Exercise on it: The Mind-Body Connection

Let me jump to the bottom line and work backward.. Physical activity helps you think.  Here is an example, years ago a publisher canceled the book contract I had been writing for it.  I had done a great deal of work on it and was quite vexed, to say the least.  However, rather than just sit there and stew about it, I went for a jog. During the run,  I came up with the idea of turning the book’s concept into edited journal issue.  Running improved my thinking and the resultant idea was testimony to value of physical activity in my cognitive ability aka thinking.

I loved to jog.  I found after running for a while, my thinking became clearer and focused. During my running a course, I reaped many cognitive benefits.   I would come upon a neat solution to a problem  that I had been fretting.    Or, while my feet hit the ground, I would come with a creative  idea, gain an insight, or rework an article I was writing.  And,  as my July 2019, Insights for a Better Mental Health  noted “Exercise makes me a better person”.  I found that exercising not only improved my menta abilities but also lead to be being more generous  and helpful to others. Although jogging was one form of exercising, I have found many different activities had the same cognitive improvements.  The physical activity could be walking, a stair master, bicycling, golfing or on an elliptical machine.

And many studies demonstrate the link physical activity and thinking.  Christopher Bergland https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201404/physical-activity-improves-cognitive-functionwrites “Regular physical activity can improve brain function throughout a lifespan.”    Alzheimer’s prevention programs as well as many other programs designed to promote, maintain and improve the brain advocate physical activity.

So, when you are dealing  with a problem, wanting to gain insight into an issue, hope to be creative  and just want  to think clearer, exercise!

November 2020 The Need To Be Effective

One of the cornerstones of a Psychology 101 college course stands Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ pyramid https://www.explorepsychology.com/maslows-hierarchy-of-needs/. It nicely outlines a series of levels of individual needs. They are from the lowest level up as follows: Physiological Needs, Security and Safety Needs, Social Needs, Esteem Needs and finally Self-Actualization Needs. These represents a neat way at looking a human need.

But, as a psychologist colleague pointed out, there is another one. That is the need to be effective. What does that mean? Here are some of the definitions. One meaning of effective is successful in producing a desired or intended result. Another is that effectiveness means adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result. And finally a last definition for being effective is a successful or achieving the results that you want. What is the common denominator? It is a feeling of accomplishment. That’s easy.

We all want to feel that we have to achieve something. In sports it could mean winning a game, getting a hit, smashing a home run, throwing a terrific pass, parring a hole, pitching a strike, and dunking the basketball. In school, it could grades on a test or a report or a class. In cooking, it could be making a meal everyone loved. As a parent, one of my goals for each of my children has been to find an area in which that one excelled in. It could be a sport, or on an instrument, a subject, a hobby, or a game. I want each of my children to feel successful in something.

Translating effectiveness into your own life, means each one discovers at least one area in which you feel you have accomplished and achieved something. It could be at your job, in a sport, in a hoppy, in your work, in solving a puzzle, in gardening and the list goes on and on. Find it, do it, practice it, enjoy it. And then feel successful!

October 2020 The Morning Glory and Your Glory

I hope that title caught your attention, here is the story. In our garden, we have a couple of Morning Glory vines. One grows on a triangular trellis and the other, on a pole. All Summer long, the vines with their large green leaves surrounded and held on to each’s supporting device. Nice. Then, on Saturday, September 5, 2020 the one on the pole vine produced two beautiful purple flowers. They took my breathe away. I said to myself, “I should take a picture of them”. But, it was getting on toward evening and dinner was waiting. The next day, the flower was gone. It blew my mind.

What did I learn? I found out two things—one about the Morning Glory and the other about life. Here’s what the website said about the plant https://www.hgtv.com/outdoors/flowers-and-plants/flowers/morning-glory-flower. “These beautiful bloomers unfurl trumpet-shaped flowers that open daily in early morning. Morning Glory flowers bring magic to the garden with their sun-worshiping ways. Each blossom lingers only until the sun begins to sizzle each day, then they close and die. It’s an incredible process to witness.”

And the life lesson is for certain things do not put them off. This idea represents a kissing cousin to Carpe Diem. The Morning Glory event shouted out to me- stop procrastinating! “Do not put off to tomorrow, what you can do today". Many senior folks often say , "I do not regret the things that I did, but rather those I did not do."

In looking at life, I have had many moments I am proud of. These include hearing Robert Frost in person, shaking hands with Barack Obama, and listening in person to Pete Seeger. A friend of mine missed a meeting to attend her son’s first baseball game. She was right. She can get the minutes of the meeting but never have the seconds of the first game experience. Your child’s birth, cutting the umbilical cord, hearing their first words, watching your kids' first steps and being at their kindergarten graduations — all are moments, if not witnessed, are gone like the flower of a Morning Glory.

And by the way, I did learn from experience. But, the next day the vine had another flower and I did take that one’s picture!

Blue Flowers

September 2020-   Dreams provide an avenue to understand your self       

Yes, I will start with Freud’s statement: “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious”. That is a powerful idea. Let ‘s unpack it. First, one has to appreciate that something in ourselves beyond one’s conscious thoughts. This known as the unconscious. I will demonstrate it in several ways. There are Freudian slips.  Yes, the classic example is when you are about to say milk but instead speak the word, mother.  Hypnosis can reveal thing in one’s unconscious. In one case, a person witnessed a hit-and-run automobile accident but he could not recall the car’s license number.  Under hypnosis, he did.  Many folks, under the influence alcohol, will utter what one really thinks about another person. Hence, the embarrassing statements, regrettably said at the office’s Holiday Party.  It also can be seen during Amytal Interviews (Amytal is a barbiturate}.  In it, people reveal events thoughts they could not recall consciously.. Finally, as Freud said, there are dreams to get in your unconscious.

Assuming you accept the connection of dreams to the unconscious, what can dreams do? They can solve problems, forecast the future, offer divine revelations and indicates past challenges. There is a legend that a chemist and scientist   Kekulé was trying to understand the configuration of six carbon molecule. He had a dream of a snake either chasing or biting its tail. From that dream he came up with benzene ring. Some people use dreams to tell the future. Remember the story of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream of seven fat cattle followed by seven thin cattle.  It meant seven good years then seven famine years. And for some faiths, they believe the deity speaks to the prophets through their dreams.

But for most of us, dreams represent unresolved issues, conflicts and traumas. For example, my ex-brother-in-law died from cancer. Historically, he and I had had a close relationship.  Then there a divorce followed by him developing cancer, However, since the divorce, I did not have any contact with him. Two years after his death, I had a dream in which I said good-by to him. The dream represented my unconscious guilt of never having visited when he was dying.  One detail, I had had that dream on the second anniversary of his death! Dreams and nightmares present us with opportunity look at areas of your lives which hidden in one’s unconscious.

We dream every night. One of the best ways to remember dreams is too write them down.    Yes, keep a pad of paper and pen next to your bed.  Share them with a partner, a friend or a therapist.  Remember, you are the best person to interpret your own dreams! 

This represents a monthly idea that will lead to you have better mental health. We all can learn and improve.

August 2020 Thinking outside the box

Most of us have heard the term but many do not know its origin. However, before I get to that answer, let me explain the idea of this insight. Too often, people take the easiest solution to a problem. Right now, I am asking you to use your creative talent and thinking outside the box to solve the problem I am presenting to you, now.

Here is the problem which I have given to many of my college classes.  The question aka  the problem is simply what does my mother love and what does she hate.  For example, she loves kittens and hates cats; she loves puppies and hates dogs.  Easy-right. You figured it out? But and this is a big BUT, once you solved what my mother loves and hated DO NOT tell the answer but instead provide an example of what she loves and hates.

Ready to go on? My mother loves ladders but hates stairs; my mother loves pepper but hates salt; and my mother loves hills but hates mountains. Not quite so easy? This is hard to do, when the students cannot see the actual words. That is a big clue. Here are a few more. My mother loves pills but hates medicine; my mother loves jelly beans but hates candy; and since jelly beans can come in different colors, my mother loves yellow but hates red.

Figured it out? If so, give an example of what she loves and hates.  Okay, she loves double consonants and hates any other word.  Remember loves double consonants but she hates school!!

The whole exercise is for you to think outside the box. In other words, be creative. Now as promised, the source of that statement. “Thinking Outside the Box with the 9-Dot Problem. Here is another classic puzzle, the 9-dot problem. To a person who encounters it for the first time, it can be puzzling indeed. The problem is to connect 9 dots (three evenly spaced rows of three) with four lines, without lifting your pencil from the paper. If you do not know the solution to this puzzle, you should try to solve it now, using trial and error, before you read further.” https://www.psywww.com/intropsych/ch07-cognition/problem-solving.html#9-dot


Good looking for and finding solutions outside the box.

The purpose of this whole Insight, is to encourage folks to look for unique, creative and innovative answers and solutions to questions and problem in their lives. Start-up companies and entrepreneurial people are now major players in our lives and economy. Remember, it the beginning facebook and ebooks  were the result of thinking outside the box.

July 2020   Bittersweet is not just a Taste but also it is life

In the last year I have been watching the Amazon Prime series 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'. It is now into its third season with its fourth due out in late 2020. It deals with a New York City mother struggling to become comedian in the 1960’s. I am captivated by the series. What is so enticing about the program is the both comedy and pain of its characters as well as the predicaments they get themselves into. In other words, I laughed and, at the same time, in the words of President Bill Clinton,” I can feel your pain”. I felt sad when some of the characters were hurting. My viewing experience of that program was bittersweet.

The more I live, the more appreciate that life is full of the bittersweet. There is an Israeli song, Al Kol Eleh, written by Naomi Shemer which begins with these lyrics: “Over the honey and the stinger, Over the bitter and the sweet” . These words captures this idea. https://lyricstranslate.com/en/over-all-these-things-lyrics.html. For example, any graduation is bittersweet. On the positive side, one is after completing something moving on and advancing toward another level. Yet, at the same time, one saying good bye to one’s classmates and teachers. So that the graduation ceremony one witnesses both joy and tears.

Bittersweet has two kissing cousins: ambivalence and the Yin and Yang. Ambivalence means having two diametrically opposed emotions at the same time. That seems so impossible. That is amazing and so unreal but also very real. Ambivalence forms the basis of many jokes. There is the classic line when a person is asked about one’s spouse. “Divorce, never; homicide maybe”. Relationships come with elements of bittersweet. People often feel ambivalent about their jobs. There are aspects they love and enjoy. Then there are aspects of their work they abhor. In the principle of Yin and Yang, two diametrically opposed positions are linked together. Examples include good and bad, day and night, and male and female. It basically says you can not have one without the other.

Life is full of the bittersweet-

June 2020   Making Every Encounter Count!

I suspect that idea of making every encounter count sounds a bit either pompous or unreasonable.  Yet, it is what I strive for.  When I was treating patients, I wanted each one of them to walk away after the session, feeling something had been accompanied.  When I taught a class, I wanted students to leave the room feeling that they learned something from it. 

But that is in a doctor’s office or in classroom, how does that translate into every day life? To me, it is simple.  Let me provide several examples.  If I am at a restaurant, I insist to know the server’s name and where that person is from.  I want to deal with a person, not a “hey you”.  And, I find knowing where an individual provides a neat and quick generally neural way to connect with them.  See Insights October 2019: How to Make Friends and Influence People for more about using the geographic connection.  And sometimes, if I am ordering coffee, I will pose the following question to the waitperson.  What do you call a cow, that just had a calf?  The answer is de-caffeinated.   That is appreciated by the staff but frowned upon by my dining friends.  They, with annoyance, remark, “I’ve heard that a million times”.  Humor can often help make the encounter count, too.

One national and international hotel chain uses some of these ideas.  All personnel wear a name target.  The that badge has two pieces of information on it. It gives the employee’s first name.  It also tells where the worker comes from.  If they are from the United States, it gives the state each is from. If they are from another country, it tells the nation each is from.  That information is a great conversation starter. Conversations enhance the encounter

Another example happens when I am buying something.  I ask a lot of questions about the product.  But first, I want to relate to the salesperson personally.  At a minimum, I want to know that person’s name and shake the hand.  The questions not only gain more information about the product but also to treat the sales person as knowledgeable.   Or in the supermarket, at least, I will smile at the cashier and make small talk.  I am especially curious about their names.  I love to give people an opportunity to talk about themselves.

Try it, make very encounter count.   That is an idea you can count on.

May 2020  Assume makes an Ass of You and Me!

Remember the old adage, “Open mouth, insert foot.” How many of you have done that by the assumptions you have made? There is the classic situation of meeting an old female classmate whom you have not seen in years. She happens to look physically big. You with glee, and say “hello and when are you due? However, she is not pregnant. As a result, a moment of mutual joy becomes a period of mutual embarrassment. To some degree police profiling is based on assumptions. The assumption that certain groups of people more likely to be criminals. Hence, all too often many African-American encounter D W B, Driving While Black. A student of mine, husband’s was an African-American. And whenever he drove his BMW home late at night through a ‘white’ suburb, he was stopped by the local cops. I recall the this event. A mature woman dressed in a business attire was sitting in a wheel chair at an airport, waiting to board a plane and drinking a cup of coffee, A man came up to her and put a quarter in her coffee cup! He had assumed she was begging for money. I bet you can come up with other examples.

What to do? The answer is easy. First, recognize that you making assumption. Yes, stop and think. Before you speak, engage brain. Figure out that you are making an assumption and then question if it accurate. You can do so by talking with the person and assessing the situation who is the object of your assumption. If one did a quick, hello to the person in the wheel chair, that person might have discovered, she was on a business trip. And you would have saved a quarter. There is a saying, ‘curiosity killed the cat, but information brought him back”. Recognize you are making an assumption. Then question that assumptions. Challenge it. Finally, if indicated say something or not.

April 2020  Try Something New!

Yes, try something new in your life. There are many reasons to do so. It expands your activities. Thus, it gets out of the daily routine, aka rout. That goes along with the old adage variety of is the spice of life. New ventures also represent new learning. It has been long touted that mental challenges offer an avenue to preventing or delays Alzheimer’s. Here are some mental challenges: learn another language, take up playing a new musical instrument, and work on mathematical and word problems.

In physical activity and exercises change or doing something different has long been advocated. In strength training, one is urged to keep adding more weight. Cross-training is recommended for a number of sports. Exercise physiologist frown doing the same exercise all the time.What makes people not try something new? Many will not because they fear they will not be successful. Originally, many administrative personnel resisted the use of a computer to do word processing instead of their familiar typewriter. Personally, I delayed my acquainting a smartphone instead of my flip-top one, for concerns over my ability to master the new devices. By the way, I am still trying out my new iPhone.

For those hesitant to do something different, I recommend “Try Something new.”
Yes, simply try it. The operative word is TRY! If you like it, continue it; if you do not, stop it! I love to listen to books on CDs from my public library when I drive. A friend gave me this following advice. When taking out a new CD for the library instead of just taking one out, get two. Then, start one of the new CDs. If you like it, continue listening to it. If not, try the other.
Returning to the theme- Try Something New!!!!

March 2020  Applying the Medical Biopsychosocial Information Model to Your Own Health

Ready to apply the medical model to yourself? It sounds a bit complex. Let me make sense of it.  The traditional medical model has focused on disease.  It says that illness can be related to the interplay of your biology, how see the world, psychology, and your social context, sociology, aka  the environment.  It is easy to visualize the interplay of your genes, how you feel and your support system in terms of let us say Diabetes Type II. If you have a family history of diabetes, if you are stressed so that you eat a lot of ice cream, and if are of low income so you cannot afford to buy fruits and vegetables, then there is a high probability you will have a high blood sugar, aka diabetes. Moreover, I have added information to the interaction equation, The Biopsychosocial Information Model: The New Disease Paradigm. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1924996/.  

But what I am saying, apply the Biopsychosocial Information Model to yourself. You are product of your biology.   Your genes and your diet are major influencers of your life.  If you have a family history of diabetes, then you have to pay attention your sugar intake.  Your state of mind contributes to how see your world.  Your attitude determines your altitude.  If you wake-up in a bad mood or recently have had a family alteration, you might see the day or life negatively.  Your nationality, your religion, your neighborhood, your workplace and your country- all make-up your social network and context.  If you live a high crime area, you might not take an evening stroll.   And finally, information and its sources affect you.  Think of how a Facebook posting, a YouTube video, a television show especially a news broadcast, a certain website, a particular radio or a recent movie has influenced you.  For example, a PBS program on a plant based diet may change your grocery purchases. Or if your healthcare provider gives you a new prescription, many of us will immediately look its effects and side-effects on the Internet.

What is key here, is to look at yourself and your life as an interplay amongst your biology, your psychology, your sociology and your information. 

February 2020  Just do it now!

To make my point, let me call upon Benjamin Franklin who said “Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” This so simple and direct.  It can also lead to a companion notion; a stitch in time (saves nine). Either way, the enemy is procrastination.

Let’s look an example. For years I practiced psychiatry in the Emergency Department (ED) of large training hospital.  There I had to evaluate patients who were psychotic, depressed, suicidal, anxious or homicidal.  In that position,  I had to make one major decision for each patient: in or out patient treatment.  When in-patient treatment was indicated,  IT could be done two ways  The patient  could accept voluntary hospitalization or through an involuntarily commitment process. .  I had to do a complete psychiatric history and mental status examination on each patient as well as to document my findings.. What was key here the need record each patient encounter immediately after I had conducted the interview.  If I delayed writing the medical record, it meant I might forget key information and quotations in the documentation. Moreover by not procrastinating, I was then ready to evaluate the next patient.

Another example was a recent series of heavy snow storms which we had in New Hampshire.  We must deal with each storm when it happened.  Failure to do so resulted in our being trapped in the house, having ice dams, having too much snow on the roof and no having  path for the oil delivery.

So, the come back to the point, “Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”

January 2020:   Your New Year's Resolution: Just do something

Growing up in the 1950's I vividly recall hearing the Reverend  Fulton J. Sheen on the television.  He had a television series entitled Life is Worth Living http://fulton-sheen.cua.edu/bio/index.cfm Each program, he ended with this statement: "It is better to light just one little candle than curse the darkness." Clearly, that has made a great impression on me and is one of my guiding lights. All the time, one finds oneself surrounded by folk very willing to complain about things. It could be about the work, their children, their spouse, the cost of things, the government, their house of worship and the weather. As Mark Twain said. “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

My answer is to do something. Climate change is real and happening. I can talk about it, and I just did. But I do things to reduce my carbon footprint. We compost our kitchen products, and it eventually becomes organic manure. I turn off lights and use LED bulbs. I am concerned about not getting enough exercise. I could complain, but instead, whenever possible, I take the stairs instead of the elevator. I have difficulty reading. I could be annoyed at myself for it. But not, I listen to books on tape or CDs.

The point is simple and straight forward. Instead of the famous Nike slogan “Just Do It!”, I say, Just do something!. Volunteer to be on a committee, say hello to a stranger, pick up a piece of litter, park away from where you work and walk a little to get there, compliment someone and smile more. Yes, choosing a path of action rather than observation and complaining.


December 2019: How to Understand the Mystery of Group Behavior

Have you ever been part of a group? Most of us have. It could have been in school, part of an athletic team, at work, in a theater company, in a musical ensemble, at your place of worship, or in volunteer, political, or social setting. Furthermore, once you are in one of these groups, were you not amazed by its initial chaos? And then even more marveled that it actually accomplished something?

In fact, what you have witnessed and been part of was the group life cycle process. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman created a model for group development. Here are its four stages: The forming–storming–norming–performing. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_86.htm

Let us walk through these stages. The first step is the actual formation of the group. Regardless of the task, a number of people are now brought together often for the first time. They have come as individuals and not infrequently view themselves as independent agents. Although each recognizes the ultimate goal of the group, collectively, many are uninformed about the number of facets of the issue, problem, or task. This is the hello phase. Who are you? What do you do? Where are you from December 2019 Insights?

The storming stage is often uncomfortable during many folk wonders why they are there. Here people often steak out their views, positions, and opinions. Hopefully, after each has offered one’s perspective and heard the other ideas, they are ready to move on.

Next is the norming stage. In this process, participants learn the ‘rules of the road”. Some groups will follow Robert’s Rules of Order. Others adopt codes to follow during the meeting, such as' "talk just about the subject and avoid personal attacks." This is when individuals start to see themselves at part of a group. Two movies nicely illustrate the entire process. One is Remember the Titians and the other is Miracle. In the Titians film, a Virginia high school, which has to be a forced integrated , has to form a biracial football team. In Miracle, students from many different collegiate backgrounds come together to form the 1980 United States Men's Olympic hockey team. Both vividly and dramatically highlight the change from “I” to “WE!”

The performing stage is where the group achieves its purpose. Be it a play, winning a game or series, completing a project, writing a paper, developing a product, doing a presentation, or reaching a goal. In the films, the team high-fives each other; the leader lights up a cigar; and each other hugs each other. They have won their games and performed well.

This sequence offers one insight to any group one may join or are already part of. It makes the group journey more understandable and perhaps easier to participate in.

November 2019:  Ask a local

We supposedly live in an information age. It is so easy to get ideas and data about places to hike, routes to bike, restaurants to eat at, movies to see, books to read, and any other conceivable question. Right? Google has all the answers. Not so fast.

Well, I am here to tell you the Internet and books can only get you so far. Let me give you an example to make my point. Recently, Peggy and I went on vacation to Southern Vermont. We had taken our bikes with us and really wanted to make a rail trail. Riding on the side of many of the roads was dangerous. We initially had decided on a river trail near Albany, NY. But, we had an accidental encounter with an Albany residence, who informed us about a new rail-trail that just opened. It was too new to make it to the biking books. So we changed our plans and destination.

We found the new trail via the Internet and used Waze to  get to the supposed start of the trail.    But upon arrival at that site, it was not there.  But, again, a chance encounter with a person walking in the neighborhood  saved the trip.  She told us where the trail actually began.  Then we followed here directions and gained the railhead. Yet, again local biker gave us key information about whether to ride first north or south on that rail trail.  He gave us good advice.  Without the information and knowledge of three local people, we would not have known about the trail, found it, or knew which direction to ride on it.

Tip O'Neill wrote a famous and often quoted book entitled All Politics Is Local: And Other Rules of the Game. The line most folks cite is All Politics Is Local. Spinning off from that, I would like to advance the idea that all information is local. So, if you want to know something about a place, ask someone who is local. If you want to know something about a school, ask someone who attends it. If you want to know something about a company, ask someone who works there or uses its products,

As an Information Volunteer for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), the first thing I do when I arrive at a hut or lodge, I ask the room there. They are the ones who know the trails and their conditions.

So, when in doubt, ask local!

October 2019: How to Make Friends and Influence People”

My apologies, and thanks to Dale Carnegie, who wrote the self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People were in 1936 and which has sold over 15 million copies, but I like the idea and his title. And it does nicely capture what I want to say.

Remember that exciting and awkward moment when you meet someone for the first time? Besides that person’s name (which most of us promptly forget), there is usually the follow-up question. In America, that inquiry takes one of two forms. The first one is “How are you?”. This too often leads to a dead end. That is because the standard answer is “Fine.” Indeed, that reply is ubiquitous and automatic. In fact, next time someone asks you that, offer a review of how you really feel. It is too often not heard nor responded to. The most common question is, “What do you do?”. This means one’s vocation. Now, depending on one’s employment situation, the response can be interesting, inviting, painful, or embarrassing.

I propose as an alternative to both. Instead, ask, “Where are you from?”. It is easy, neutral, and a conversation starter. It gives you and the other person both a point of reference and something one can relate to. No matter what the location, it offers opportunities. It could have been a place you have been to. You might know someone who lives there. (In the idea of six degrees of separation, it is possible you do know someone for there) Or it could be a location you want to know more about or perhaps visit.

A quick digression to make the point and add a neat twist. I was talking to a woman. When I asked her where she was from, she said, Somerville, Massachusetts. Neat, because I could add that while I attended Tufts College, I too had lived in Somerville. Instantly, we had had a conversation expander. But then, she said the most profound statement. “In everyone;’ s life, there is a Somerville.” You’ll be amazed at how many folks have lived in Somerville at some time in their lives. This includes President Obama when he went to Harvard.

Back to the point, asking Where are you from? It is great way to connect and converse with others. It is a neat way to develop relationships. 

September 2019: Small, Incremental and Successful Steps to Lead to Progress and Triumph

Taking small, incremental, and successful steps in the direction you want to travel is the way to make progress.  Let me offer an example to explain this.  I suffered a jogging injury.  I fell and injured both my left knee and my pride.  For a while, I was even reluctant to run even though I love jogging.  Yes, I had moments of a fear of falling.  What to do?  At the urging of a friend, I started running again.  But it was only for a short distance.  Each run became a small victory and success.  So each time I could go a little farther.  My initial success bred confidence and courage. 

First, I want to unpack the three parts:  small, incremental, and successful.  Small means little, not huge steps.  If you want to eliminate the world hunger, start with helping at a local food bank.  Break a project down into manageable segments.  Another cliché’ is that “Rome was not built in a day.”  Incremental indicates a direction of progress and succession.  For example, in exercises designed to muscle strengthen, one first master the sets at one weight level. Then, you increase the load.  Successful hinges on the notion that success breeds success.  After I could jog for a quarter mile without problems, I was ready to try to run a half-mile.

But, what if one of the small steps were not successful?  Great question!  Rather than seeing it as a failure, look at it as a lesson and opportunity to learn from it.  Ever attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting?  There you will hear people telling their stories to a supportive and encouraging audience. The tale involves times of progress and moments of lapses, e.g., falling off the wagon.  Ultimately, the speaker sees the setbacks as just part of the recovery process.  They have benefitted from the mistake and put it into a recovery process resulting in their ultimate triumph.  One day at a time is a great message.  It leads to abstinence for the first day, for the first week, then the first month and the first year.  A model of small, incremental, and successful steps, remember to turn your stumbling blocks into stepping stones.

August 2019: Life’s Three Stages

It is time to combine some of my favorite life’s developmental schemes with Henry David Thoreau.  I want to link the life stages Freud, Erikson, Piaget, and Kohlberg with the dictum of Thoreau- "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify."  Freud advanced a developmental sequence of a 5 stage psychosexual model.  Erikson presented it in a lifelong psychosocial scheme in 8 stages.  Piaget created a 4 stage  cognitive-developmental model. And Kohlberg offered a 3 stage moral development model. To simplify things, I have created three stages of life  model: acquiring, maintaining, and divesting.

In the early years, one’s life is based on the acquisition.  It means attaining things.  From birth to your highest level of graduation, one is gaining knowledge. Physically, you go from not moving to crawl to walking and to running, In language one starts with cooing to dada and mama to sentences to vocabulary and to syntax as for some a second language. With writing, one begins with scribbling to letter to sentences and paragraphs. In information, you travel from a few facts to a mental encyclopedia.  You do so with a new job.  Meanwhile, you are accumulating  material things: clothing, toys, cars, homes, appliances, and furniture.

The next stage is based on maintaining and preserving all the accomplishments and achievements.  It takes many forms.  Professionally, it means doing continuing education to keep your license and certification.  In health, it translates into annual examinations and tests, not to mention holding steady with your weight and blood pressure.  In the home, one not only pays the mortgage but also a house insurance policy.  And some folk fence the front and back yards.

The last stage is marked by divesting.  People giving away things in their homes, they are downsizing.  A term, now popular, is a Swedish Death Cleaning.  This means parents and grandparents give away their prized processions to others or non-profits, because their children and grandchildren do not want those items. By doing so, upon their death, this relieves others from getting rid of them.  And yes, your final will represents the last act of this stage.

So there it is-the three-stage model of life: acquiring, maintaining, and divesting.  Simple, applicable, and where are you in this sequence?


July 2019:  Exercise makes me a better person

After I have jogged, I feel and act as though I am a better parent and partner.  This how that works.  I love jogging.  It is my time both  to exercise and for creative thinking. But it also a very selfish activity.  Unless I am running with another person, it is a very solitary experience.  It is my time for myself.  However, what I have discovered, after jogging, I come home in a more open, caring, sharing, and giving mood.  I played more with the kids and listened attentively to my partner.

Here is my explanation.  I love Erik Erikson’s eight stages of life.  In this developmental sequence, one goes from I to us or me to us.   Erikson’s  sixth stage, Intimacy versus Isolation, covers ages 18 to 40.  There, one discovers the importance of another person in your life.  Remember, before this stage, if someone asks you for dinner, you might quickly reply, “sure.”  However, once you have an intimate relationship, with the supper request, you now say, “Let check with my partner, first.”   n the seventh stage, Generativity versus Stagnation for ages 40 to 65, one becomes more focused on giving to family, the community and organizations. Ask any non-profit organization or college alumni office what group they have mostly been successful with.

So metaphorically, in my run, I have traveled from I to we.  Because I have done something for myself, I am now prepared to do things for others,

The take-home message:  Do something for yourself, be it jogging, meditation, listening to music, reading, and knitting.  Then you are in more open, sharing generously to others. 


June 2019:  I hear the birds: I am not depressed.

“I hear the birds; I am not depressed” is a power statement.  Many of us wake up with too much “noise” in our heads.   That noise is a result of a long list of  “things”  running through our minds.  These include things I have to do today, something I did not do yesterday, things I want to do today, but I cannot, wondering how can I avoid annoying others, and wondering whether my kids will call me today.  And that is to name a few.

Admit it.  You all have entertained some of these mental ramblings.  Regardless of our mental noise, the birds sing every day.  Yes, every day, even in the winter, they sing.  But some days you hear those birds and some days you do not.

The reason you can hear the birds is that your “noise” is silent or really turned down.  Too much noise is because you are stressed, worried, and perhaps depressed.  So when you  hear the birds, whether around your house, while jogging or on the golf course, you know that you are not depressed!!!

Take home message:  Did you hear the birds today?  If so, great.  If not, take a self-inventory.  Pay attention to your noise.