Warning: This Post Could Be Hazardous to Your Paralysis

mindfulness

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I’ve been trying to wean myself off my iPhone. Again.

Nothing drastic this time. Just a slow detox. Turning off my mail app. Deleting games. Deleting news apps. Deleting social media apps. Turning off text notifications. Turning off all notifications. I just don’t have the willpower to resist the dopamine rush that a smart phone gives you every time you use it, so I’ve neutered the thing. I’ve made it as unpleasurable as possible.

And it must be working.

Because a couple of days ago, I found myself standing at the gas pump—waiting, waiting, waiting—and I realized I wasn’t holding my phone. I hadn’t even thought to dismount it from the dashboard. So, I hadn’t mindlessly filled myself with data while I filled my tank with gas. I hadn’t compulsively checked messages or news, and I’d gone a few minutes without the craving for entertainment.

And yet.

It wasn’t pleasant.

Instead of swiping, I found myself thinking. For instance, I thought about someone important who was waiting for a reply from me about something important, and I felt my anxiety about being honest in that reply. Then, I thought about another complicated situation I’d gotten myself into, and how difficult it was going to be to face it with integrity. And so on and so on. In other words, I thought all the thoughts I’d been avoiding thinking.

We prefer our digital life because real life isn’t nearly as easy to swipe away.

When we’re on our phones, if we don’t like something we see, we can change the settings or close the app or mute the friend or block the caller, or just wait a few seconds for the algorithm to realize we don’t like it and never show it to us again. But in real life, problems don’t go away. They wait for us. So, while they wait, we scroll.

A tech detox can be dangerous, because it plunges us back into the complexities of real life.

And yet.

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What I Will Miss When They Are Gone

gratitude

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They sent me home to get the music.

On a Friday afternoon in June, we were celebrating the 90th birthday of my wife’s grandfather. He remains a healthy and vibrant man, a gift to all who have known him. As he eases into his tenth decade, he quietly laments that this may be his last year of gardening. His party was a true celebration of life.

Yet, the celebration was missing something. Music.

So, I was sent home to pick up my portable speaker. A thirty-minute round trip to ponder this man who cared for his granddaughter—the woman I love so much—at a time in her childhood when no other man was around to do so. I’m a words guy, and I like to memorialize such moments with a toast. Thirty-minutes to ponder what I wanted to say about my kids’ great-grandfather.

And I blanked.

I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to say about him. It was disconcerting. For a moment, I even began to question the sincerity of my affection for him. But then I got still. And I simply listened. Then, eventually, this voice of grace:

You don’t want to toast him; you want to hug him.

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When Life Gives You Lemons, Pay Closer Attention to the Lemons

Most of us automatically categorize life experiences into two categories—good versus bad—and then we try to eliminate or avoid the bad ones. But what if there is a better way to categorize experiences? And what if that way of categorizing them could make us more aware of the beauty all around us all of the time…

mindfulness

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The curves made me listen.

I was on my first long bike ride in years, and my destination was a local city park. It has a humble, boring entrance, but within seconds, you find yourself descending bluffs on a series of switchbacks, before the road levels out along a stretch of tranquil riverfront. The ride to the park was mostly long, straight stretches of road. I sped past neighborhoods and then cornfields, the wind whipping past my ears, obscuring the sounds of sunrise.

Then, the curves.

As I began my descent, I slowed for the first time, and the din of wind in my ears ceased. Suddenly, for the first time all morning, I could hear birdsong all around me, deer loping in the underbrush, and the dance of breeze in the leafy canopy above. It was the most treacherous part of my ride, but because the curves forced me to slow down, I was able to take in the beauty that had been surrounding me the whole time.

Life works this way, too.

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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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I see.

I haven’t written a poem since the year I fell in love with my wife. That was 17 years ago. But on a Friday evening in May, I watched as the night descended, and Siri and I wrote a poem together.

It’s about how rarely we slow down to notice what is right in front of us.

It’s about how we celebrate the light, but the rest of creation embraces the dark, as well.

It’s about how we search everywhere for God, but the truth is, we don’t need to be looking more widely, we just need to be looking more closely.

On this first full day of summer, it seemed like a good time to share it with you. May this be a season in which you watch the world around you more closely, the world within you more tenderly, and may you glimpse ever more clearly your deepest, truest, worthiest, most loveable self…

mindfulness

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Have you noticed how slowly the sun sets

when you are a still, steady witness?

Have you watched as the shadows succumb

to their inexorable lengthening?

Have you listened to birds sing as optimistically at the dawning of the night

as they do at the dawning of the light?

The sun rises every day, and we celebrate;

yet, how rarely do we marvel at the moonrise?

The air cools

amongst the deepening hues

and God watches

from behind a tree,

wondering who will notice.

He hides, it seems,

and we seek.

Except there is no hiding.

He’s everywhere.

I see him.

In the slow-slipping sun

and the long shadows

and the birdsong

and the moonrise.

And the dark.

I see him.

I see.

I.

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Loveable is available in paperback, digital, and audio and can be purchased wherever books are sold, so you can also purchase it at your favorite bookseller.

A Father’s Love: It’s Complicated, and Quite Simple

“Daddy, is there going to be music for us to dance to, or did you just trick me into coming to a party?”

It’s our first Daddy-Daughter Dance. In the corner of the gymnasium, one particularly stressed-out father is fidgeting desperately with an iPhone and the big speaker to which it’s attached. The speaker remains silent.

father's day

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Meanwhile, the rest of us dads stand in a ring around the gymnasium. We’d prepared ourselves for the awkwardness of dancing in front of other men, but it turns out talking to each other is just as awkward. While we pretend to be comfortable in our own skin, our daughters are turning the gym into a beehive of little girls and pink, popping balloons. Caitlin is right—it doesn’t look like a dance; it looks like a party. On meth.

Caitlin is seven and I’m 40. Yet, 33 years of additional life experience have left me no less confused than her about the nature of this night. She’s now wondering if it’s a dance or a party, but from the beginning of the night what I’ve been wondering is this:

What is my job here?

When your little girl goes out with her momma to get her hair styled for the dance and walks in the door, looking at you with a big expectant smile on her face, do you gush about how adorable she looks—because she does look adorable—or do you tell her that her truest, most enduring beauty lies on the inside, where time is powerless to make it fade?

What is my job here?

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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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