Clutter in your surroundings causes clutter in the mind:
“I don’t have time to deal with this mess.”

“Clarity” by Mimi Stuart ©

Disarray clutters the mind

Clutter in your environment creates clutter in the mind and vice versa. Clutter in your home, office, and car tends to correspond to the clutter in your mind, in your relationships, and in your life.

Living in an environment where it is difficult to find things and difficult to think leads to chaos and indecision. In such an atmosphere, the anxiety of being overwhelmed by stuff stifles your focus and potential.

Accumulation of clutter has its basis in fear

Some people fear never having enough. People who have experienced deprivation during their lifetime, whether through war, poverty, or hard times, understandably find it difficult to throw things out, fearing they may need them in the future.

Others equate possession with security. Being surrounded by possessions gives them the feeling of having value or being loved. Acquiring and retaining things makes them feel more secure.

Many people simply dread the task of re-organizing and removing clothes, papers, and stuff. They dislike the emptiness they feel when doing something so tedious. Instead, they focus on more stimulating activities — like shopping for more stuff!

Clutter is oppressive

By avoiding the tedium of organizing and throwing out possessions, you basically become hostage to them. Your possessions ultimately possess you and create chaos in your life. Disorganized papers, for instance, can lead to unpaid bills, fights about money, wasted time, and family disorder. A cluttered, messy home is depressing and weighs a person down with the burden it creates.

Making room for possibility

A de-cluttered home provides an atmosphere of serenity and possibility. There’s no need to swing to the extreme of immaculate orderliness that may create a feeling of sanitary lifelessness. It’s a reasonably clutter-free environment that creates harmony around us, and makes room in our lives for a range of new possibilities.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Order and Spontaneity.”

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“Is planning in advance an unreasonable expectation?”

"Tiffanys" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Tiffanys” by Mimi Stuart ©


“I never expected to come first even on a weekly basis, but it was tiring to NEVER be a priority in my boyfriend’s life. I was very understanding about the demands on his time, but I was getting frustrated that he refused to plan ahead. Apparently asking for that was too demanding and he ended our two year relationship over it. I know I was the pursuer and I did make myself too available to him.”

Is planning ahead unreasonable?

It is very reasonable to expect an intimate partner to plan ahead for you! But, he did not plan ahead because he did not have too. You were always available. You focused too much on accommodating him, and thereby narrowed your own life and became less desirable.

Avoid being a doormat

My advice to you is to start living your life fully. Rather than asking him to plan ahead, simply make your own plans. I would plan out each week a week in advance, and be busy with people or activities or just plan on staying home to chill and read or do something you enjoy doing alone. When you have other interests and a life beyond him, you will be more interesting and desirable. If he really wants to see you, he’ll have to make you a priority and plan ahead.

If he does call, you can be friendly. Let him know that you’re busy, because you will be busy. Do NOT drop everything to see him, even if you’re dying to see him. For instance, “I’d love to see you tomorrow, but I have plans with a friend,” or “Tonight I’m staying home and relaxing, but it sounds great for another night.” Only be available if he plans ahead of time.

Note that in a mutual, reciprocal relationship, it’s fine to drop everything to see the other person sometimes.

Is being unavailable a game?

Haivng a busier life and being unavailable is not game-playing. It only feels like a game because you don’t feel like behaving this way. You need to use your reason and avoid acting only according to your feelings. Your desire to be with him was so strong that your other interests were pushed aside, which caused you to put too much emphasis on him and the relationship. The result was self-sabotaging.

You will be honoring yourself by requiring some notice. You will be doing him a favor as well. He will appreciate you more and have the opportunity to look forward to being with you, as there will be time for him to anticipate seeing you. Right now, you are the only one doing the anticipating, waiting, and yearning.

How to change your behavior

We learn to behave differently by playing a new part, whether we want to become more responsible, more fun, or more desirable. Through practice — by copying people we find particularly good at those behaviors — the new behavior will become more natural.

In part, desire is generated by anticipation, which requires distance and separation. Pursuing your own interests, other activities, and friendships will distract you, bring you joy, and will make you more desirable. And if your life is more full and well-rounded, all the better!

by Dr. Alison Poulsen


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Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed
Giving Up Parental Narcissism for Parental Maturity

"Lungta Windhorse" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Lungta Windhorse” by Mimi Stuart ©

Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed writes:

Parents often seek their validation from the wrong source — their children. The pure unconditional love of an infant is so intoxicating that many parents want to experience that transcendental glow for as long as possible. Who wouldn’t want to be adored without any discernment or judgement? The tricky part is that in order to be a truly loving and effective parent one needs to learn to give up the idealization from their child in favor of setting boundaries, expectations, and healthy limits.

The love that can develop when a parent does not try to be mirrored by their child or best friend to their child, but instead be the parent the child needs, is a love that is built on respect, consistency, and inner wholeness.

All of us need to constantly work on this maturity because inside each of us is a child that just wants that unconditional love we may have once experienced in our parent’s eyes and did feel from the purity of our newborn’s love.

A child has a million chances to make friends but it is exceptional to have a sturdy, loving, and reliable parent.

What does it take to give up parental narcissism for parental maturity?

It requires us to recognize first and foremost that our child is not the right place to look for our adult emotional needs to be met. If we have a partner we need to work diligently on that relationship so that it is a source of meaningful connection and legitimate feedback. If we do not have a partner we need to invest in a robust network of friends.

Adults need to be the people we turn to help us get through the ups and downs of life. Adults are the people we need to rely on to give us accurate appraisals of our appeal and competence.

Children need us to be clear and not back down when we have set standards. We need to be the solid posts they can lean on or push against to know their own capacities and inner strengths. When children know where the limits are and can depend on them then they feel more relaxed and trusting. When we feel confident that we can adhere to our values and withstand the inevitable protestations of our children then we can be calm and secure in our parenting and our mature love of our children.

If this all sounds a little too dry or somber let me reassure you that children who are parented by mature adults are raised in some of the most raucous and happy households I have ever seen. Once the proper walls and foundations have been set and reinforced patiently and consistently — both parents and children find an incredible freedom and joy within those healthy boundaries. Genuine playfulness and affection are often an outgrowth of mutual respect and emotional solidity.

After all it is much harder to dance on a buckling and splintery floor. It is never too late for a parent to grow up and become the mature beacon your child needs and deserves.

Take the below quiz and see how you are doing in cultivating mature parenting (for parents of 8 year olds and up)

Score 1 – 5 (1 – Never, 2 – Rarely, 3 – Sometimes, 4 – Often, 5 – Always)

1- I give into my child’s demands to stay up later than they should

2- I let my child watch too much TV

3- I can’t stand it when my child is crying so I do everything I can to make it better

4- I allow my child to use bad language

5- I tell my child to be “good”

6- I allow my child to interrupt me and other adults

7- I am too tired to follow through on consequences I set for my child’s misbehaving

8- I would rather get along with my child than press an issue

9- I make all the meals for my child and clean up after them

10- I let my child monopolize the conversation and not really know anything about me

11- I let my child indulge in unhealthy comfort foods or substances to soothe their unhappiness

Scores of 30 and above indicate you have some work to do to become a mature parent instead of a popular one.

by Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed, PhD, child behavioral expert, co-founder of AHA! (Attitude.Harmony.Achievement.) http://ahasb.org

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Performance Anxiety:
“I get extremely anxious when I compete in sports or engage in public speaking.”

"Purple Rain" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Purple Rain” by Mimi Stuart ©

As long as I do not take myself too seriously I should not be too badly off.

~Prince

Think of how little anxiety you experience when you are comfortably on your couch watching TV. Now imagine that you are going to perform a concert, give a speech, compete in a tournament, or go on a first date. Would you want to be as stress-free as you are in front of the TV? Or would a totally relaxed, lackadaisical attitude hurt you?

Some stress is good

Some people think that they want to eliminate all anxiety and stress from their lives. Yet a total lack of anxiety generally only occurs when someone feels low energy, apathetic, or indifferent.

In situations involving danger, the unknown, and peak performance, you need to be at your best and on your game; you need to be alert and ready to take action. Anxiety — or stress — in moderate doses prepares you for those situations.

Anxiety is a physical response to a mental state, in addition to other factors such as genetics, personality, history, disease, and drugs. Stress generates an increase in cortisol and adrenaline, which cause you to be alert and ready for action. In excess, anxiety can cause you to freeze, panic, or lose mental or motor control. Yet in moderation, it arouses the senses and increases awareness and the ability to react quickly. It turns out that having too little cortisol can be just as much a problem as having too much.

Excitement and passion

Falling in love, traveling, and intellectual and physical challenges cause anxiety and concurrent chemical changes in the brain known as “excitement.” Events involving situations of novelty, significance, or the unknown cause an arousal of the senses and a state of alertness that allow you to notice everything vividly. Without some anxiety, you won’t experience the exhilaration involved in anticipation, adventure, and peak performance.

Having stress in your life is healthier than no stress, as long as you can exercise some control over the situation. Thus, the goal is not to eliminate stress completely but to re-train your brain to handle anxiety better in the more extreme situations you may face.

Four ways to train your neural-circuitry

1. Practice

Whether your goal is public-speaking, performing at a concert, or competing in a sport, the most effective way to practice is to practice extensively, always with focused attention, and not necessarily in “perfect” external circumstances. With such focused practice, the required movements will occur more naturally and automatically in the future regardless of your anxiety levels.

If you have performance anxiety, it’s good to start with mildly stressful situations to avoid traumatizing yourself. A gradual increase in stress is much more effective than jumping into panic-inducing situations. If you want to do more public speaking, for instance, practice in front of the mirror, make toasts at the dinner table, go to toastmasters, and eventually give small workshops. If you play an instrument, start by practicing with other people in the room, and invite more and more people over to listen.

2. Imagine the worst-case scenario

Prepare yourself by imagining how you would handle the worst-case scenario. For example, at a Nationals water ski tournament, I saw a slalom competitor respond beautifully to a worst-case scenario. After falling at the one ball on her opener, which is about the worst performance possible, she came out of the water without any hint of anger or embarrassment, and simply shrugged it off. She laughed and said that she felt fortunate to be competing at Nationals, and that she hoped to do better the following year. Because she had such a great response and demeanor, other people did not feel embarrassed or sorry for her. Instead they felt comfortable, and retained respect for her.

It also helps to have a sense of humor about yourself and to remember what Michael Jordan once said:

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, lost almost 300 games, missed the game-winning shot 26 times. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.

3. Practice getting centered.

During practice or performance, we need to be prepared to deal with self-defeating thoughts that do nothing but intensify our anxiety.

“What an idiot I am! That was horrible!”

“What if I can’t remember?”

“Oh no. Look who just walked in.”

When people get distracted by a negative thought or an unexpected interruption, they get centered again in very different ways. Here are some examples of how to get your focus back quickly:

1. Take a slow deep breath.

2. Focus on others rather than how you appear to them.

3. Focus on kinesthetic feeling rather than on your thoughts about how well you must perform.

4. Imagine a relaxed place — a serene beach or a loved one appreciating you.

5. Practice simply letting go of distracting thoughts and moving on. Meditation is a great way to practice getting centered.

6. Pretend you are someone who exudes the right kind of confidence or does your activity well. Mirroring is the fastest way to learn new attitudes and behaviors, just as infants and children do. With practice, you will own that energy and embody it in your own personal way.

4. Gain Perspective

Given personality traits, upbringing, and other environmental factors, people develop unconscious assumptions of what will happen if they fail or make mistakes. For example, they may feel that they will be unlovable, a failure, worthless, or unhappy.

To put your fears in perspective, it helps to investigate what makes people feel happy, worthwhile, or lovable. Research shows that the greatest happiness comes from activities such as maintaining meaningful relationships, helping others, having a sense of community, meditating, smiling, and laughing. Exercising, adequate sleep, and eating healthy foods also have a serious impact on our well-being. Learning and executing skills does positively effect our well-being as well, but it is lower on the list than having good relationships, helping others, and feeling a sense of community. We want to make sure that our perfectionist thinking about performing skills doesn’t sabotage the more important ingredients for a happy and meaningful life.

Living life

Life is rarely stress-free because life by its nature requires us to deal with the unknown on a daily basis. However, the more practice we get in handling the unknown, the more confidently we can approach life and its challenges. If we are experiencing anxiety, we are living. Only by doing mundane activities mindlessly do we get relief from all stress — by sleeping through life. Is that what we really want?

Look at the adventure, challenges, and growth we would be missing if we chose to eliminate all stress! Through facing the anxieties of living life, we learn to handle new exhilarating and challenging situations.

Sometimes it takes years to become an overnight success.

~Prince

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

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From the Headmaster—Guest Author Jon Maksik
Failure is Good

"42, Mariano Rivera" by Mimi Stuart ©

“42, Mariano Rivera” by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR Jon Maksik writes:

A cynical colleague once cautioned me about using the word “failure” when discussing children. “Challenge,” he said would be more soothing. Becky wasn’t failing to meet her responsibilities and getting a ‘D’ in the class, she was facing challenges and if she would only live up to her potential, etc. It was only a semantic feint but one that reveals both the residual muck of the so-called “Self-Esteem Movement” and, more important, our apparent lack of respect for our children. Becky, of course, knew exactly where she stood: She needed to do her homework and study.

And, Becky certainly knew where she stood when she was in first-grade and the teacher put her in the Papayas (which was, wink-wink, the kids who didn’t read as well as the Kumquats). It wasn’t exactly a secret which fruit group read, counted, and scrawled the best letters, any more than it was a secret who did the best tricks on the recycled Brazilian wood play set outside. It wasn’t Becky who needed the disguise; that was for her parents. Becky just needed the teacher’s encouragement to hang in there and keep working; she’d be a Kumquat soon enough, and if not, well there are other fruits. From the moment our sons and daughters waddle into the world of other children, they almost always know where they stand.

Maybe Becky’s teacher hadn’t read the studies that reveal an entire generation (Let’s call it the, I feel really good about myself, but I can’t add or find Pakistan on a map generation) of Americans whose self-esteem is so elevated that they believe they know things they don’t. Becky’s first Little League coach didn’t need to read the studies. He knew that when she got her first hard ground ball at shortstop, the “Great Fielder” trophy from last year’s tee-ball banquet wouldn’t help much. What did help was getting clipped in the jaw with the ball and getting right back on the field. The coach knew that when you fall or fail, you get right back up and try it again.

I don’t know a single accomplished adult who hasn’t failed often. Yet, when we become parents our instinct to protect our children can so overwhelm us that we seek ways to shield them from learning the very lesson that offers the best protection—falling and getting back up. We send them to schools where they are “not allowed to fail,” where their every talent and attribute is celebrated. And if they come home discouraged? We call the school. Our kids get certificates for showing up but not always for doing something really well. What devastation to the “self-esteem” of the kids who didn’t get an award. In forty years of teaching I never met a child who bought that “everyone wins” snake oil.

Becky gets why she isn’t at the top of her ninth grade math class and it isn’t because she “doesn’t test well,” or “the teacher doesn’t understand her learning style.” It’s because she isn’t very good at math and would rather be reading or painting or playing ball. And it isn’t because her grade is filled with mean girls that the school won’t do anything about. We aren’t paying all this money so she can come home miserable every day. The problem is that those other girls “don’t feel good about themselves,” that’s why there’s beer at their parties. And what, by the way, is the school going to do about that?

Ok, this is a bit hyperbolic, but I’m betting that some of it sounds familiar. Becky and her friends do thrive on encouragement and success. As parents—and teachers—we should work hard to help them discover what they love and then support those things with all our hearts. Our children need to know we believe in them, but if they’re going to believe in us, we need to be honest with them and respect their intelligence. No baby talk, no fruit groups, no excuses, no suing the school.

Our children look to us to gauge how they’re doing and how to function in the world. More than look to us, they watch us. Ever have a fight with your husband or wife? No yelling, just one of those run of the mill quarrels in another room so the kids wouldn’t know. They knew anyway, right? They don’t miss much about their parents and they want the truth, including what we think they’re good at. If we try to fool them, they’ll look elsewhere to figure things out.

Do you remember that day when your little boy was learning to walk and fell hard on the pavement? Shock, maybe pain, then…he looked at you to see what it all meant. I’m betting that if you leapt up and raced over to him looking terrified, he cried as if he’d been snapped in half. If—far more calmly than perhaps you felt—you walked over and lifted him up with a smile, he probably didn’t cry much at all and you taught him something about falling down and getting back up. What we learn about falling down and getting back up goes a long way to define the kind of person we become—which is to say what we learn about failure is what makes us successful.

As for Becky, she’s the only girl on the high school baseball team and she’s hitting .333. That means she fails to get a hit twice out of every three times she comes to bat and which, for those of you who don’t follow baseball, is Hall of Fame hitting. For those of you who do know baseball, you know that it’s hard as hell and that you can call striking out a “challenge” if you want, but it’s really just striking out.

by Jon Maksik, Ph.D., who served as headmaster of the Community School in Sun Valley, Idaho, from 1987 until his retirement in 2006.

Read Jon Maksik’s “Teaching Kids to Leave” and other articles.

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Text… phone call… email…
“Oh…what were you saying?”

“FIRE” — Jarome Iginla by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

What happens to your memory when you multi-task? It turns out that texting or cell phone interruptions mingled into face-to-face conversations weakens your memory. Fragmented attention does not allow you to focus on any one thing long enough to code it into your memory well. Poor memory leads to making frustrating mistakes and wasting time. Research shows that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to complete a given task and will make 50% more mistakes.

More importantly, fragmented attention does not make the person you’re talking to feel valued. Plus it’s just rude!

Focused attention is essential to working memory. Neuropsychologist John Arden explains that, “if working memory is impaired, long-term memory will experience a famine of new information. If the road to long-term memory through working memory is blocked, the ‘supplies’ or memories can’t get through.”

If, for example, you are texting during dinner while conversing with your family, your focus will be fragmented and your working memory jeopardized. When you are distracted, you forget the detail of the story being told — your working memory hasn’t been encoded into your prefrontal cortex yet. So you have to ask, “What were you just talking about?” after glancing at a text.

Paying attention is key to good memory. Arden recommends the following to cultivate memory:

1. Resist having your attention fragmented.

2. Schedule social media, text messaging, and phone calls to specific times of the day, when others are not wanting your attention.

3. Focus your attention on each task until it is completed. With better prefrontal cortex activation, your working memory will function well enough to code information into your long-term memory.

It pays off considerably to pay full attention to the work at hand and the people around you — it enhances your memory, makes you more effective, and improves your interaction and relationship with others.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Reference and great reading: John B. Arden’s “Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life.”

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