The Toxic Tempest of Solo Worry


Do you worry alone?  Or do you share your worry with others?  Does it matter?  Apparently it does.  I recently heard Ned Hallowell speak about this topic and, as he described the pitfalls of solo worry, it gave me a bit of a personal epiphany I want to share.  Hallowell, an MD, is a leading authority on ADD and ADHD  and he is the Director of the Hallowell Centers in NYC and Sudbury, Massachusetts.  With eleven books to his credit, including Driven to Distraction (1994)  and Delivered from Distraction (2005) Hallowell certainly knows his way around the distracted mind.  However, it was advice he gave on the topic of worry that piqued my curiosity.  “Never worry alone.” Hallowell warned.   Since this is the opposite of what i do – I always worry alone – it really grabbed my attention.

Hallowell went on to add that when we worry alone, worry becomes toxic, we omit the facts, withdraw and isolate ourselves.   Worrying alone is what I do.  In fact, I go to great measures to pretend that everything is going be alright even when I really believe it is not.  I fake it.  I pretend.  I spend money I don’t have.  When I worry in silence, I slap a smile on it, maybe I become a bit sullen or snippy at times, but I do not trouble others with my worry.   What’s your worry strategy?   Can you relate to my terribly toxic strategy of independent struggle or do you have worry support in place?

Hallowell went on to say that those of us who worry alone miss out on the problem solving aspect of having a worry partner.  I would like to add, that when we worry alone, we fail to process the dilemma, the pain, the heartbreak, the fear, and thus may become stuck in the trauma of it.   Additionally, we abstain from the compassion others might provide us when we need it most.   I can absolutely attest to solo worry’s toxic powers, but until I heard Ned Hallowell speak, I simply hadn’t put it all together.

Worrying alone is dangerous, bad for your mental health and can lead to a host of bad things.  Get a therapist, get a worry partner, get a coach, get someone, but don’t go it alone.    The toxic tempest of solo worry is to be avoided at all cost lest this psychological storm wreak havoc in your life.  Don’t worry.  At least not alone.



Dreams can come true – at the dentist.

Today, while I was at the dentist for my coronation – a grand way of saying that I was getting a permanent crown cemented – a wonderful conversation took place between me, the dental hygienist and the dentist. The hygienist, who I will refer to as “Shakira” for reasons that will follow, was feeling a little down this morning as we began to chat.

Shakira was suffering from some mid-winter blues and a bit of homesickness for the warmer climate of her native Columbia. One of the things she misses the most, Shakira told me was dancing – specifically Salsa dancing with a little merengue and belly-dancing thrown in for good measure.  She was, she said, thinking of teaching it. In spite of not having professional training, she considered herself quite good at it and loved the fun of the lively dance and the warm colorful memories it provided for her.

I noticed how excited she got sharing her desire to teach Salsa dancing pointing out that she had support from her boyfriend.  Capitalizing on her excitement, I made a few suggestions about how she could accomplish this in her spare time.  She could have fun, I said, teaching Gringos how to Salsa and free up their trapped energies, stiff hips, and aching bodies that often held puritanical notions about suggestive movement – even when just in fun.  Dancing is a great way to change your mood and elevate your spirits. However great dancing is, most of us have forgotten anything approaching good dance moves.  Long gone are the childhood ballet lessons that blossomed into tap then jazz only to be left behind by the 6th grade when shame and self-consciousness delivered the death knell.

Dancing forces coordination between the mind and the body in a way that allows for expression while strengthening seldom used neural pathways.  Dancing inevitably leads to happiness when one frees oneself to tap into a natural rhythm long repressed.   It is the joy of a child running while trailing a ribbon, the translation of a steady beat into matching movements, it is the feel of music flowing into the body and back out again.  It is alignment with something that tugs at our spiritual nature. It is the gestalt of a thousand disconnected notes creating a blissful harmony while igniting the cells in our body in a matching harmony. I supported Shakira’s vision and we played with suggestions of how to accomplish her goal.

In between fitting iterations of my crown, I pushed the conversation along enrolling Dr. K into the conversation.  Dr. K is my South Korean born dentist and I decided to find out what his secret dream was. Dr. K who told us of his early desire to be in sports – he wanted to be a runner.  However, his parents quashed the notion as absurd.  Running, they told him, would not put food on the table.  Instead like many parents who had faced wars and direct threats to survival, they saw a profession, or as he put it a “license”, to be the holy grail for future success.  Thus sometime after that conversation he came the US and pursued dentistry, became a husband and a father or 3 young sons.  Dr. K confessed that his secret dream – if he didn’t have to work – was to travel the world.

After the fitting of my crown was complete and we headed to the front desk, Shakira asked for my business card – she was very excited and happy that she could talk about her dream today.  I assured her that her dream could become reality with a little work.  As I drove home, I imagined ways Dr. K could achieve his dream while holding down his dental business.  I wondered if I should send him a note with the many ideas that popped up on the drive home. Helping others imagine possibilities and supporting them through the process, is a big part of what I do.

So how about you? What dreams would you like to bring to life?

Why we need coaches!


First let’s get this off my chest – there are too many unqualified people setting up shop as coaches. Going to a coaching school and paying for a certification really doesn’t do it. If you want to really be of assistance to people, you need to learn about people. You need to learn about human behavior and about organizational behavior. Then you need to be able to connect deeply with someone by understanding their motives, values and aspirations. It can actually come together quite quickly in skilled hands or dissolve instantaneously in incompetent ones.

I hired a coach some years back – my first one. He was terrible – even though he was “highly recommended”. Our first conversation went like this:

Coach: So what do you want to work on?

Me: Organization – (not really, but this is what I said since his opener left me cold)

Coach: Okay, what are three things you will do by our next meeting to get organized?

Me: Clean up my laundry pile, clean off my desk, pay my bills.

Coach: Great! What might get in your way of doing that?

Me: Life

Coach: So how will you prevent that?

Me: I don’t know…

Okay, I was terrible too! But, here is the thing. He took no time to get to know who I was and what made me tick. He could have been an app pre-programmed to say what he said. There was no charm…no attempt to learn about me – which at $500 an hour, you had better take that time!

I had to cancel the next meeting due to a death in the family. He was insulted and told me he could not understand why THAT threw me. $1000 bucks into the trash can and I severed the relationship. I was a weanie and made a lame excuse. But, years later, I must say, Dear Coach, YOU SUCKED!

I coach students at Harvard Business School on resume development, personal branding and interviewing skills. Every conversation begins with a power-packed download of who you are and what you want to achieve. Our sessions are intense and wonderful. Why? It’s the exponential power of the coaching relationship that is nurturing, safe and often tough. but always, always personal.

The folks at HBS already understand the value of coaching. They have it at their fingertips when they need it and they use it. I have zero doubt that this is part of the reason (they are also brilliant!) that HBS students are so successful.

I need a coach, we all need coaches! If the people at HBS and in the corporate world already get the value of coaching, that’s good enough for me! Next week, we begin working with a new cohort at HBS and I will work diligently with them to provide a meaningful experience.

Truthfully, the psych-hacking IS coaching! It is the extraction of principles of human psychology in a focused way to get results quickly.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact me @

Self-Talk – Why the Hidden Conversation in Your Head Matters

Self-talk matters. What we say to ourselves influences our view of the world, the actions we take and the actions we don’t take, the quality of our relationships, whether we are happy or not, successful or not and so much more. We observe events. We interpret events.

We filter those events and process them through lenses known as our beliefs. Many of those beliefs came from others i.e. society, family and friends and many others. They also come from misinterpretations of experiences and events that happened a long time ago. Many are not logical and when scrutinized in the cold light of day (outside of your head)they do not hold up to logical reasoning and yet we let them become our reality. One reason for this is that many of our beliefs and interpretations were formed when we were very young. Our bodies may change and grow old, but sometimes our beliefs remain set in stone if we leave them unexamined. Too often we do not examine them even when they create havoc in our lives.

To summarize one more time: We observe events. We interpret and process events through our filters or beliefs. This is especially important since it creates our reality. Reality is highly subjective since each of us has beliefs that influence our interpretation of what happens to us and what we say to ourselves. The language we speak to ourselves is the most important of all as it constructs and reflects our reality.

Here is an example: Joe’s wife Penny tells him she is tired of him always leaving the toilet seat up at night. Penny says that every time she uses the potty at night, her posterior drops onto the cold hard porcelain. Penny has asked Joe many times not to leave the seat up, but Joe forgets. Penny believes that this is because Joe is an insensitive jerk and doesn’t listen to her or care that it upsets her. Joe is annoyed that Penny keeps finding fault with everything he does and sees her nagging as an attempt to control him. He will not allow anyone to do that. Penny and Joe are not speaking except in terse angry sound bites.

Observable Fact: Joe sometimes leaves the toilet seat up at night. He knows it bothers Penny, but he has trouble remembering when he’s half a sleep. (Self-talk: Joe wonders how he supposed to remember when he is half asleep. He wishes Penny were not such a nag.)

Observable Fact: Penny gets upset when Joe forgets and she receives a nasty middle of the night potty surprise. (Self-talk: Penny tells herself that Joe doesn’t care about her. Otherwise, he would not forget this and subject her to such discomfort.)

Observable Fact: Penny complains to Joe. (Self-talk – Penny tells herself if Joe really cared, he would make this effort, but he is an insensitive jerk. After all the things he has done for him, she tells herself, why can’t he do this small thing?)

Observable Fact: Joe rebuffs Penny’s complaint with anger and a few choice words. (Self-Talk – Feeling under attack, Joe tells himself it’s no big deal and Penny should put it down herself if it matters to her. She is not the boss of him and is always nagging him.)

Penny and Joe are at odds not so much because of the toilet seat, but because of their interpretation of events (including past events) and the meaning they have added to them. There is no conversation that is productive, just arguing and distance because each believes they have the facts. They are engaging in mindreading, projection and exaggeration. They use extreme words like every and always and never.

For Joe and Penny, reason has gone out the window and both are responding through highly charged emotional filters. The event itself is small; the interpretation each has made is big and can lead to the unraveling of a relationship. The events matter far less than what each party tells their self about the event. Penny believes that Joe does not care about her and if that is the case, she thinks to herself, she should leave him because she deserves better. Joe believes that Penny doesn’t think he can do anything right and secretly feels that he cannot. He tells himself that Penny is a hopeless nag and he would be better off finding someone else. If they split up, their future is predictable: Rinse, Lather, Repeat.

If each leaves the relationship without looking at the underlying dynamics, they will most likely jettison one partner for another and repeat the same sad pattern. Why? It is because the other person is not the problem, although we often shift the blame away from ourselves to support what we believe. When each minor conflict is processed through emotional filters both parties can avoid looking at the role they are playing in this drama.

I work with clients one on one and we work at separating facts from emotional fiction and unhelpful beliefs. This is how real sustainable change takes place. Several coaching slots are available for this important work. If you are interested in changing your self-defeating patterns, please contact me at for more information.


I ordered a Wayne Dyer classic some time ago – YOUR ERRONEOUS ZONES. The unassuming paperback arrived today. It has been a few weeks since I ordered it, so I’d forgotten all about it – my cyclone of a mind moves on fast! I opened the book, a thin paperback with a faded cover and age-yellow pages (so much for being LIKE NEW) and opened to a part about guilt. As the universe seems to do at times, what I needed to read appeared in front of me. The ensuing discussion about guilt – an emotion I thought I was doing a lot to avoid – kind of hit home and I realized that I needed to read this.

Let me share with you a summary of what Dr. Dyer has to say:

• Guilt is a strategy to avoid taking any effective, self-enhancing steps today by keep your focus on the past and what has already happened that you cannot change – ever.
• Guilt is a form of self-punishment and misleads you into believing you are taking action by continuous self-flagellation.
• Guilt is a means of escaping responsibility and avoiding the hard work of changing in the now.
• Guilt can be viewed as a form of penance in the hopes that if you feel bad enough, you will eventually be forgiven. Dyer calls it the prison mentality as inmates pay for their sins by feeling terrible.
• Guilt serves as a means to return to the relative safety of childhood, a secure period where others took care of you and made decisions for you. Once again, you are protected from taking charge of your own life.
• Guilt serves to transfer responsibility for your behavior. Takes the focus off you and puts it on others.
• Guilt can help you to win approval from others if you show how bad you feel. It’s a human way to try to fit in after wrong doing.
• Guilt can be an attempt to gain others pity. The desire for pity is indicative of a very low self-esteem. You would rather have people pity you than like or respect you.


1. View the past accurately as UNCHANGABLE. Recognize that guilt cannot change it and serves to prevent you from moving ahead.
2. Ask “What am I avoiding in the present by feeling this guilt?” What is it that you are afraid of?
3. Recognize that your values may not be the same as others. Here’s an example: Let’s say you leave the corporate world because it holds little value for you. You panic and feel guilty. Instead of moving forward, you simply agonize with guilt day after day after day effectively leaving yourself stuck and in danger of collapse. In such a case, you are merely punishing yourself for making a choice that honors your true values rather than the values you adopted from others.
4. Accept who you are.
5. Reconsider your values which may be different from your family, your friends, your coworkers etc. At the very least, they may have undergone a change from what they once were.
6. Assess the consequences of your behavior. Determine if it is working for you by giving you results you enjoy and want. If not, then guilt is again punishing you.
7. Defuse guilt by teaching others that they can do for themselves – you are actually empowering them by stopping co-dependent manipulation.
8. Take a stand against guilt by stepping out and or speaking up. For example, if you get lousy service in a restaurant – leave NO tip. You will be helping that server get powerful feedback. Don’t let guilt trick you into believing that the server will starve and/or the restaurant close unless you subsidize awful service – it’s a business not a charitable endeavor. You will be made to feel guilty by someone – guaranteed. Speak to the manager if possible, but reject the guilt. You are doing more to help this server and manager than rewarding failure ever could.

Some people would say that guilt is a useless emotion, I disagree. It is healthy to feel guilt when you have done something wrong not when you do something different i.e. step away from the herd. The biological purpose of these emotions is to bring you back in line with conventional norms to ensure your physical survival – your psychological survival is of no consequence here. That is why it can be so hard, because we feel torn in an internal struggle. Some people will actually change their values to avoid feeling guilty or to shift it on to the victim. It’s an energetic exchange in which the person who should feel guilty shifts it on to the victim. That’s for another day.

The problem with guilt is that while there are times when you should feel guilty so that you can stop and think about what you are doing and make amends, if necessary, right away. Toxic guilt is guilt that serves no purpose except to stay stuck as it disallows any constructive action. Acting out of guilt, it is impossible to construct a bright future; guilt is punishing and will continue a pointless, punishing cycle if not stopped.

In what ways is guilt present in your life? What steps can you take to minimize the role of guilt?

Hello and welcome to Psych-Hacker.

Psych-hacker is designed to help you tap into applied psychology to improve your self-awareness and understanding of both yourself and others. Psych-hacker leaves behind arcane terms, diagnoses and theories that can obscure psychology’s incredible usefulness. Psych-hacking is like getting an owner’s manual for your mind and a personal coach to guide you through it. Arcane psychological theories are useless if you cannot apply them and immediately make improvements in yourself, your management skills, your entrepreneurial endeavors and relationships.

I created the Psych-Hacking Process to taking the best of individual and organizational psychology and use it create personal growth in my clients. Psych-Hacking is an instructive and insightful process both for individuals and organizations and the journey begins here.