An Old Man’s 7 Resolutions for a New Year

As we age, it seems, life presents us with two options: denial or humility. And, in my opinion, if you decide to trade-in your denial about your limitations for a little bit of humility, you might as well fold some of that humility into your New Year’s resolutions…

funny new year's resolutions

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This year, I’m going to stretch.

I’m not going to stretch because I’m training for the 2020 Summer Olympics or a marathon or a Tough Mudder, or even a 5k. No, these days, at the ripe old age of 41, I’m not stretching out of ambition, I’m stretching for the sake of prevention. I’m stretching so I can walk into the grocery store without a limp. So I can ascend a flight of stairs without pulling a hamstring. So I can roll out of bed without throwing out my back.

When I was younger, my New Year’s Resolutions were usually, in some way, related to conquering the world; now, as I age, my goal is a bit more ordinary: I just want to continue functioning in the world. So, if you’re like me and time has humbled you—if you now realize that mind-over-matter is a privilege of youth and, in the end, matter always wins, by eventually changing form—here is a list of New Year’s Resolutions for you to consider.

After all, it’s a worthy goal to be an upstanding citizen, but the older you get, the more you need to focus on simply standing up…

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How to Show Up to Your Life

We traveled together, this young boy and I.

We were in the back of a hired car, on the way to the airport. I was scheduled to give a national radio interview the next day, and I was mostly looking forward to the adventure. Flying isn’t my favorite thing to do, but the weather was good and I had plenty of margin in my schedule for unforeseen delays and unpreventable problems.

But my little traveling companion was a mess.

inner child

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He was worried about what might happen, what might not happen, and everything in between. I tried to ignore him for a while, but that seemed to make him more scared. So, I tried to convince him there was nothing to worry about, that nothing would go wrong. Nope. Too smart to be fooled by platitudes. My efforts were making his anxiety worse.

He was close to panic.

Then, I told him, no matter what happened, I’d take care of him. I told him he could relax, because even if things went wonky, I’d handle it. I told him it’s okay to be anxious, because when you’re a kid you lack control over almost everything and you pretty much can’t protect yourself from anything. But, I told him, you can relax if you want, because I’m in charge now, and I’ll make sure things turn out as well as they possibly can. I simply invited him along for the ride. And do you know what happened?

Slowly, he calmed down.

I embraced him and we walked through the airport together and got on the plane together and found the rental car together and checked into the hotel together and, believe it or not, we went on the radio together. The studio was a little intimidating for him, but I told him I couldn’t do the interview without him, because in a lot of ways, he’s wiser than me. Wiser in a way only kids can be. Once again, I invited him along for the ride. And he did great. We did great.

It turns out, we work really well together.

I wish I would have reassured him like that years ago, because that scared little boy has gone on a lot of adventures with me, always afraid, always wishing he could just go home and hide under the covers. But I guess I couldn’t really do that sooner, because the truth is, for most of my life, I didn’t even know that boy existed.

You see, that little boy is the little kid in me.

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Whoa, That’s Deep!

When we moved from the suburbs back to my rural hometown, I thought we’d be trading the cacophony of Chicagoland for the quiet of the country. And, in a way, we did. The thing is, the countryside wasn’t as quiet as I thought it would be. In a really good way…

The Loveable Podcast

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On a spring morning, the birds twitter and tweet and make a concert of their morning song. On a summer evening, the cicadas crescendo in the crowded trees, until, in the small hours of the night, they finally quiet, and the crickets take over, with their constant hum. On an autumn afternoon, dry leaves rustle in the treetops, and they skitter raspy along two-lane roads. In the winter, a snowfall can lay undisturbed for hours, and the muffled world fills your ears with the tinny ringing of your own blood rushing.

Underneath the loud and frenetic world we’ve created is a world that’s been created for us, and it moves to a deeper, slower rhythm.

I was recently asked, in an interview about Loveable, how do we start the journey toward wholeness? My answer was…space. Space to rest, to notice and to feel, to contemplate and to question. Space to move deeper into the wholeness that already exists, forgotten and neglected, somewhere within the depths of us.

Depth.

As we live increasingly on-line, where depth is quickly going extinct, it can look like the desire for depth is dying, too. For instance, the comments section of a blog was once the place you went for meaningful conversation; now, it’s the place you go to troll people. Not so long ago, social media was where you shared content that stirred your thinking and your heart. Now, generally, social media is where you stir up controversy and conflict.

But the publishing of Loveable renewed my hope.

The desire for depth has not died and it has not even gone dormant. We simply don’t go to social media for it anymore.

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How Can You Trust a Therapist’s Authority?

Confession: the first time I went to therapy, I’d been a therapist for more than five years.

I asked a friend for a recommendation. He gave me the name of a therapist. I conveniently lost the number. Several weeks later, I asked him for it again, and he gave it to me again. It collected dust for a few more weeks. Then, one day, when the suffering within me finally outweighed the resistance within me, I made the call.

No one likes to schedule a first therapy session.

therapist naperville

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It’s hard enough to spill your mess in front of a perfect stranger. It’s hard enough to present your pain to someone you’ve never met. It’s hard enough to reveal your hidden parts to someone you have not yet begun to trust. But, ironically, it’s particularly hard in therapy, not because you don’t know anything about this therapist person, but because you think you know at least one thing:

You think they’re different than you.

They’re a therapist, so they’ve got it all together. They’ve figured it out. They’ve arrived. Whether by good fortune or good training or some combination of the two, they are on a whole different level of health and happiness. They may not be superhuman, but as you pick up the phone, you assume they are at least a little better human than you.

This, is baloney.

The authority of a therapist does not come from some big difference; it comes from just a little bit of distance.

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The Definition of Freedom (According to a Psychologist)

What is freedom?

Today, in America, we celebrate Independence Day. Yet, even in the land of the free, our definitions of freedom differ dramatically. A historian might focus on the rebellion of thirteen little colonies against a great imperial power. A conservative American might focus on the right to bear arms. A progressive American might focus on freedom of speech. And, on the Fourth of July, some Americans might simply focus on a day free from work and free for fireworks.

What is freedom?

freedom

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When I asked my seven-year-old daughter that question, she said, “Freedom is being out in the world for your life.” For a little girl who needs permission to go outside to play, freedom is the right to roam.

In contrast, when I asked my thirteen-year-old son for the definition of freedom, he replied, “Freedom is getting to be unique together.” In middle school, there is immense pressure to conform in order to be cool. So, to simply be himself, along with every other unique soul, is the definition of freedom.

What is freedom?

Apparently, your definition of freedom depends upon who you are—your age and your political persuasion and, probably, your personality and your faith and your fears and your wounds. Indeed, there may be as many definitions of freedom as there are people. So, for what it’s worth, here’s this psychologist’s definition of freedom:

Freedom is accepting that, usually, the freedom we fantasize about does not exist.

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A Therapist Explains Why We’re All So Ticked Off in Social Media

Parenting fail alert.

A couple of weeks ago, on a Sunday night, my thirteen-year-old son Aidan forgot to finish his chores. I’d relocated some plants in the yard, and I’d asked him to water them. He didn’t. I immediately decided his work ethic was lacking—probably because of YouTube—so I told him he was grounded from his phone.

He got angry.

I sent him to his room.

Because when my kids are sad I want to hold them, and when my kids are scared I want to encourage them, but when my kids are angry I want to punish them. I don’t want to listen to it; I want to squash it.

When they get angry, I get angry right back.

anger

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This is natural: our brains are wired to experience anger as a threat, so we reflexively return the threat. And then some. Not to mention, we tend to think of sorrow and fear as relatively harmless emotions—if they do damage, it is only to the person feeling them—but we tend to think of anger as an unhealthy emotion. Bad. Destructive. Most of us have been wounded by someone’s anger, and we want to put an end to the wounding.

So we send anger to its room.

And yet.

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The Kind of Trophy Every Kid Should Receive

These days, every kid gets a trophy.

A lot of people don’t like that.

And I understand. Trophies are about performance. They are meant to honor hierarchy, to differentiate winners from losers. And they’re supposed to prepare our kids for a dog-eat-dog world, where simply showing up isn’t the same as working your way up. Like I said, I get it.

So, why do we keep doing it?

self-esteem

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In Loveable, I tell this story:

…when the other team scored against us, I sprinted for midfield. I was waiting for my team when they arrived, and gave high-fives all around, as if we had scored the goal. Because when a bunch of six-year-olds fail and then look to you, they’re never wondering how they did; they’re always wondering who they are. They’re not wondering who gets the biggest trophy; they’re wondering who gets the biggest hug.

Trophies are like golden hugs.

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The Art of Being Alive in a Broken World

grief

I heard a wail coming from the back entryway.

When I got there, the scene quite simply broke my heart.

My nine-year-old son Quinn was on his knees on the floor with his backpack in front of him. The same backpack in which he transports a thick file-folder of his personal artwork to school every day—drawings, paintings, and writings he’d been working on for months. And this very same backpack was dripping.

There was water everywhere.

While inserting a water bottle into his backpack, the lid had flipped open and thirty-two ounces of water had poured over everything he’d created. Quinn had fallen to his knees in anguish. His cheeks glistened.

I know it’s just nine-year-old coloring and crafts, but I could feel the grief of it. After all, we can all recall some of our own losses, some of our own heartbreak and anguish, some of our own broken beauty.

Balloons pop.

Ice cream falls off the cone.

Sometimes, the dog really does eat our homework.

And lovers leave us and disease disables us and jobs get lost and houses burn down and violence explodes and accidents happen.

And age happens. Even if everything goes perfectly—and you live long and you prosper—the end is always drawing closer. Our bodies are frail and finite. Eventually, death opens up a big water bottle and pours out grief upon the life we’ve created.

Eventually, no matter what, there will be water everywhere.

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Of Course You Are an Imposter!

impostor syndrome

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Several months ago, I recorded a promotional video for Loveable.

It was a solo project. I spent hours scripting it, rehearsing it, and then finally setting up sound and video in my therapy office. Finally, I spent several hours recording it.

I wanted it to look just right. After all, Loveable is written in a fatherly voice, so in the video I wanted to emphasize my expertise as a professional—you know, balance out all that touchy-feely stuff. When I finished filming the final lines, I dismantled all the equipment, put it away, and patted myself on the back. Until I looked down. And discovered my zipper was down.

Through the entire shoot, in every scene, my zipper was down.

The whole point of the video was to assure everyone I have it all together, and I couldn’t even remember one of the most basic elements of putting oneself together. I scrambled to review the video and, thankfully, you cannot tell in the video that the proverbial barn door was open.

But that’s actually my point.

We go around pretending like we have it all together, and the problem isn’t that we fail to do so; the problem is that most of the time we succeed.

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This Is What Therapy Cannot Do for You (Says the Therapist)

“How does this work?”

It’s the first question many therapy clients ask. Those who don’t are probably just being polite. And it should be the first question. When I go to a medical doctor, I want to know what they’re doing and how it will heal my body. It’s totally reasonable to wonder the same thing about how therapy will heal your mind and your heart. So, I’m always happy to answer the question. But before I do, I have to ask another question of my own:

What does “work” mean?

therapy

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In other words, what do you expect healing to look like? What will it feel like to “get better?” Because if we haven’t clarified what therapy can and cannot do for you, we can’t be clear about how it works. So, most therapy begins in an unexpected way.

Most good therapy begins by dashing some of our good hopes.

For instance…

Therapy cannot eliminate sadness from your life.

Nothing can. Because sorrow is an integral part of being human. Sadness is a sign we’ve cherished something or someone—that we’ve longed for something unattained and been disappointed, or attained something for which we’ve longed and been grieved by the loss of it. It comes and it goes—this is normal—so therapy cannot make it go away for good. But therapy can help us to stop fighting our sadness, to start feeling our sadness, and to discover that true freedom is not the absence of darkness but the confidence that we can walk through our darkness and into the light. Even if, one day, we have to walk through our darkness again.

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