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Misery Loves Expectations

Irritated with your husband (or your wife)?

You probably expect too much.

I find it ironic that the month after Valentine’s Day tends to be the busiest time of the year for divorce lawyers (or so they say). Seems that many people are not feeling as much love and romance as Hallmark would hope.

I have a theory about this.

If I asked my grandmother if her late husband was her best friend, her provider, her lover, and her partner in parenting and life—her go-to guy for emotional fulfillment, practical help, AND the center of her social universe—she would have laughed uproariously.

She did love her hubby until the day he died and she missed him so much she wept when she would talk about him more than 30 years after his death. But my Opa wasn’t her best friend (her girlfriend Beulah was). She didn’t rely on him for help raising the kids or with the housework (times have changed!), nor did she expect him to understand her feelings. She relied on herself for happiness and fulfillment—and truthfully, she didn’t have high expectations there, either.

But she’d tell you she had a wonderful marriage. When I asked her if she had had a happy life (she lived to be 104 years old), she giggled at the absurdity of the question. Clearly she did.

And yet, like most of my peers, I would not sign up for her life—or, in particular, her marriage. Today, we expect our spouses to be our partners in just about every realm. We expect them to be our co-parents, our household running mates, and to help provide for our family financially. We’d think there was something wrong if they didn’t consider us their soul mate, their go-to buddy, and their lover.

Our expectations hugely influence our perceptions, and therefore our decisions, our experiences, our judgments, and ultimately, how we feel. Click To Tweet

Like individuals, couples are increasingly isolated from the outside sources of support that previous generations had, and so our partners have become our primary sources of emotional (and for some, spiritual) fulfillment. When we aren’t happy, it is easy—and quite common—for our generation to blame our spouse for it.

There is an expectations paradox here: The demands put on our relationships have become so great—and our expectations of them have gotten so high—that we are more likely to be disappointed when we don’t get what we want from our partners than we are to feel grateful when we do.

My grandmother expected very little from her husband—I imagine only that he provide her with financial stability, and that he be faithful to her. My grandfather delivered on these things, and as an added bonus, shared with her a love of dancing, a social life full of mutual friends and dinner parties, and a muted joy in raising children and grandchildren.

My grandmother was content not so much because of what she had in her husband, but because of what she lacked in her expectations. This is both ironic and instructive for our generation.

Consider the study where Duke professor Dan Ariely, author of the book Predictably Irrational, had research subjects try two different types of beer. One was Budweiser; the other was Budweiser with balsamic vinegar added to it.

The majority of subjects vastly preferred the Bud and vinegar concoction—when they weren’t told what it was. When they were informed before they tasted it, they hated it.

Ariely’s conclusion is that when people believe that something might be distasteful, they’ll experience it negatively, even if they would have liked it otherwise. The reverse is also true.

In other words: Our expectations hugely influence our perceptions, and therefore our decisions, our experiences, our judgments, and ultimately, how we feel.

But the idea that we should just lower our expectations of our spouses and call it a day is inherently unfulfilling. Seriously: Is the answer really to just lower the bar?

I can’t think of anyone for whom this would work. We can’t just drop our beliefs–especially our long-held romantic notions about who are partners should be to us–without replacing them with new beliefs and values that feel as true or truer to us.

So what do we do? How much can we really expect of our spouses and still be happy?  If expectations create relationship-killers, like nagging, contempt, and criticism, how can we respond constructively when our expectations aren’t met?

I’ve spent years combing the research for answers to these questions. I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned in my next live call on Friday, March 16. We’ll be digging deeper into the misery of high expectations, and more specifically what to do when our partners don’t measure up.

Join now and you can listen in to our March 2nd recording and get instant access to all of my Love & Marriage online resources. For a limited time, you can join us  for 50% off — only $10! Use the code BLOG10Learn more or enroll now.

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How to Know if You’ve Married the Wrong Person

When my first marriage failed, I wanted desperately to fall in love and start again. I wanted to show my princess-obsessed little girls that lasting love was possible; that their romantic dreams could come true. That my romantic dreams could come true.

When I met Mark, the man who is now my second husband, I was optimistic. He meets my propensity for anxiety with a proclivity for deep calm. He told me that he wanted to dedicate the second half of his life to romance. I was sold.

Four years after we met, we married. It was something I had to talk Mark into; going through a divorce is hard, and neither of us were eager to go through that again.

Although I didn’t see it then, I wanted to marry Mark in part because I didn’t want to raise my kids alone. It was so much more fun to have an adult to talk to at night. In virtually every area of my life, having a partner felt so much better than the prospect of being alone.

(Note: Originally, I had writtencould it have been almost any partner?” above, because when you are a single parent, almost anything seems better than being alone. But upon further reflection, I’ve realized that it’s not at all true that almost anyone would do. I was a romantic, remember, and idealistic, and so I set a super high bar for husband #2. I found someone who was, and still is, everything I was looking for.)

I also married Mark, though I was not aware that I was doing this, in an attempt to preserve (or maybe resurrect) those feelings of being adored which were the hallmark of our early relationship. No one was a bigger champion of me (or my work) than him. For the first year that we were together, he gushed over me in a way that only my grandmother had done before. It felt great.

But then it turned out that romance wasn’t really his thing. And so I attempted to bring back — and make permanent — that feeling of being wildly in love by talking him into getting married. Nothing could be more romantic than a wedding and a honeymoon; nothing, in theory, could make our relationship more permanent than marriage.

This is obviously faulty logic. There was, of course, no actual connection between the feelings I wanted to resurrect and the institution of marriage. Indeed, as Alain de Botton has so wisely written, even though we attempt to use marriage to “make nice feelings permanent,”

“marriage tends decisively to move us onto another, very different and more administrative plane, which perhaps unfolds in a suburban house, with a long commute and maddening children who kill the passion from which they emerged. The only ingredient in common is the partner. And that might have been the wrong ingredient to bottle.”

Marriage did move us onto a decisively different plane, complete with a move to the suburbs and the ensuing long commute. Three of our teenagers decided to live full-time with us (the fourth goes to boarding school). This was a departure from the week-on, week-off custody arrangements we were used to. Mark and I lost all the alone-time we had as a couple, but our family life blossomed. I thrived in a house full of teenagers.

Without the time to ourselves we were used to — and with some significant family stressors hammering away at us — Mark and I started operating a little more like middle-aged business partners than twenty-somethings in love. It became unclear to me how people with teenagers underfoot could ever have sex without the constant (and libido-killing) threat of interruption. An unending family feud about how to load our new dishwasher developed.

Recently, in the midst of the still-ongoing dishwasher feud, dozens of text messages deep into an argument about why it is idiotic/wasteful to rinse dishes before loading them into the dishwasher, I realized: Once again, I have married the wrong person.

How to know if you, too, have married the wrong person

Do you sometimes have a sinking feeling that you did not marry “the one”? Is near-perfect compatibility not often evident? Perhaps you have married a person with whom the sex is not always frequent, passionate, and surprising. Or maybe your spouse’s blind adoration seems to be fading; or the two of you sometimes feel contempt or defensiveness in the face of each other’s “helpful” feedback. Perhaps one or both of you are prone to criticism. Or are there things you’d (justifiably) like to change about your spouse?

If that all sounds familiar, you have likely married the wrong person.

That’s okay: We all marry the wrong person. Or, perhaps more worryingly, we marry people for reasons that don’t really pan out over the long haul.

To get through this ordeal of being married to someone who is not perfect for us, we must abandon our romantic ideals. Again, the brilliant de Botton, who writes that we mustn’t abandon our flawed spouses, but instead jettison “the Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.”

It’s no small feat for me to let go of this cultural ideal; for many decades it has housed my most cherished hopes and dreams. In middle school I started fantasizing about having a man to “stop the world and melt with,” thanks to Modern English, and despite no lasting evidence that such a person existed, I have never really stopped awaiting his arrival.

It’s not that I haven’t been in love: I have. I am in love with my husband now. But every time I wish he was different than he actually is — every time I wish he would do, say, or be something that he isn’t — it’s as though I’m expecting him to be someone else. It’s as though Prince Charming could be just around the bend, if only…

It’s this gap between expectation and reality that generates all of life’s disappointments. We human beings have a wonderful capacity to create rich fantasies. But when we expect our reality to match a fantasy and life doesn’t deliver what we imagined it would — it’s hard to feel anything other than cheated. 

The truth is not very appealing: There is no prince in shining armor coming to save me from my loneliness and anxiety, to rescue me from my feelings of inadequacy. It begs hard questions: Can I consistently feel grateful for what I do have, rather than disappointed in what I don’t? Can I let go of my attachment to a cultural idea that is, quite literally, a fairy tale?

In truth, I don’t really want to let go of my romantic fantasies. I like them. They are like the promise of an amazing meal or unforgettable vacation.

As if he knew that I’ve been thinking about all this, the other day in the car Mark asked me if I’d marry him again, knowing what I know now. Actually, he didn’t ask so much as he asserted, with good humor, that he knew I wouldn’t marry him again. “You’d marry someone more spiritual,” he declared. “And more emotionally expressive. Someone younger.”

“I would choose you, I insisted, and not just because I don’t like to be told what I do and don’t like. In my heart I knew it was true: I would marry him again and again, even now that I know that marriage is not necessarily easier or more pleasant than being alone, even accepting that marriage does not have any power to transport us back into a state of romantic bliss.

I know now that no actual human being can ever measure up to the romantic fantasy of a soulmate. Mark might be imperfect (and imperfect-for-me), but I am also highly imperfect, and as such, imperfect for him. It’s such a fair match.

It’s clear that all along I’ve been asking the wrong question. “Are you the right person for me?” leads only to stress and judgement and suffering.

Determining the rightness of a match between ourselves and another is a fundamentally flawed enterprise, because nothing outside of ourselves — nothing we can buy, achieve, and certainly no other person — can fix our brokenness, can bring us the lasting joy that we crave.

A more empowering — and more deeply romantic — question is: Am I the right person for you?

A more constructive (and potentially satisfying) proposition is to ask: Can I accommodate your imperfections with humor and grace?

Can I tolerate your inability to read my mind and make everything all-better?

Can I negotiate our disagreements with love and intelligence? Without losing myself to fear and emotion?

Am I willing to do the introspective work required of marriage? Can I muster the self-awareness needed to keep from driving you away?

Do I think I am brave enough to continue loving you, despite your flaws, and, more importantly, despite mine?

I do.

If this post resonates with you, please join my coaching group! Our next call is Friday, March 16th, (you can listen to the recording if you miss it) and we’ll be talking about the best marriage advice coming out of relationship science these days. For a limited time, you can join us for the next 3 calls for 50% off — only $10! Use the code BLOG10Learn more or enroll now.

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Why My Husband Infuriates Me

The other night, I did something that I am not proud of.

We have four teenagers, so dinnertime is never dull, but this particular evening it was full chaos. One of our kids had not eaten much. My husband, Mark, really wanted one of our kids to eat more, and so he offered a bribe/threat: You can’t go hang out with your friends until you finish everything on your plate.

A power struggle unfolded, complete with sibling cheering sections. I tried to shut it all down using dramatic non-verbal cues. This was not what we agreed to do when a kid doesn’t eat well, I screamed silently with my supercharged glares.

I was not successful. The picky eater ate what was required in order to go hang out in the neighborhood.

Although I was obviously right (chuckle) in my frustration–because bribing kids can work in the short run, but research clearly demonstrates that it backfires in the long run–this post is not about how right I was. It’s about how I mishandled this situation because I didn’t see what it was really about.

The next night, I intended to calmly raise the issue so that we could prevent similar dinnertime spectacles in the future. I knew that I couldn’t make accusations or do anything that might make Mark defensive, because people don’t learn well when they are being criticized.

Let the record show that I was not even remotely uncritical.

I opened with something like “How could you have been so stupid?”

And then I started to rant.

“Haven’t we talked about that situation a million times? We have a freaking PLAN for this!! We’ve AGREED what we will do about picky eating!! Why can’t you follow through with the plan? Why can’t you understand how important it is to be consistent?” He responded calmly. I rolled my eyes with contempt and superiority.

I was such. an. ass.

I do not know of any parent, myself included, who has not at some point threatened, bribed, or otherwise manipulated a child into doing what they wanted the kid to do. I actually do possess a huge capacity to empathize with my husband’s intentions and behavior, but it was a capacity I failed entirely to draw on.

Why? Why was this so emotional for me? Why was I so critical and punishing?

Because I was projecting.

We project, psychologically speaking, when we unconsciously and unknowingly attribute our judgments about ourselves to other people.

See, the thing that drives me most crazy about myself is that I often make big elaborate behavioral plans for myself and then I don’t follow through on them. For example, I’ve recently stopped meditating (again) after making a plan to meditate more. The perfectionist in me has been a mess of guilt and anxiety over this, something I didn’t consciously realize until I found myself dressing Mark down for not following through on our picky eater protocol.

We humans have blind spots. It is often hard for us to see our own failings, but it can be very easy for us to see what’s wrong with other people. The people around us, particularly our spouses, are like mirrors. We see clearly what we don’t like, but we get it backwards.

It’s not them, it’s us.

Martha Beck cleverly calls this charming human propensity “You spot it, you got it.”

Psychological projection (in its many forms) is a defense mechanism first conceptualized by Sigmund Freud. His daughter, Anna Freud, later developed the theory. The Freuds posited that we often deal with the thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings that are hard for us to accept in ourselves by attributing them to someone else.

Although many Freudian theories have not stood the test of time, projection is still considered a textbook human behavior.[i] I see projection at work all around me, in myself, in my friends and children, and in my clients.

That doesn’t mean that we are always projecting when we see other people’s flaws, or when we see the ways that others can learn and improve. But when we feel particularly emotional about a situation? When we feel hooked and irrational or harshly judgmental about someone else’s shortcomings, rather than empathetic or compassionate? We are probably projecting.

Projection is an undeniable human tendency, and I think it is pretty wonderful, actually, because it allows us to see ourselves more clearly, to better understand what is causing us anxiety and stress.

The greatest thing about projection, to me, is that it comes with a set of instructions for our own growth and happiness. We’ll usually do well to do whatever it is we wish other people would do (or stop doing).

Projection is pretty wonderful because it allows us to see ourselves more clearly. Click To Tweet

In other words, when we notice that we are projecting, we have the opportunity to take our own advice.

For example, I wanted Mark to stop asking me to make parenting plans that he couldn’t follow through on. Instead, I wanted him to accept easier, good-enough, plans. So the opportunity for me (to take my own advice) was to accept an easier, good-enough plan for meditation.

In this instance, the solution was not to try to be more perfect.  The follow-my-own-advice solution that emerged from my projection was to stop making plans that weren’t realistic given the lovely, messy world—life with my four teenagers and a career that has me traversing time zones—that I live in. My fight with Mark showed me that I don’t always have to model the very best practices; it’s good enough to be strategic, realistic, and skillful.

What are your projections telling you? What advice for others would you do well to take yourself?

Want to learn more about how projection can help us grow? We hope you’ll join our Brave Over Perfect Group Coaching community. Our March theme is all about taking our romantic relationships to the next level. It’s only $20 to join us! Get instant access to three live coaching calls (and call recordings), a thriving online community, and online resources. Learn more or enroll now.

[i] Wade, Tavris “Psychology,” Sixth Edition, Prentice Hall, 2000.

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How to Have a Good Valentine's Day

How to Create More Loving Relationships

Research shows that our feelings of being in love come from what we do and how we behave around our beloveds — more than from an unseen magical connection with another person. Here are 3 research-based things you can do that can make you feel more in love. And, here is the link to the list of questions I mention in the second tip. Have fun!

If you like this video, I hope you’ll join our Brave Over Perfect coaching group! Our March theme is all about love and marriage, and it’s only $10 per month to join us for three coaching calls. Get instant access to live calls (and recordings), a thriving online community, and online resources. Learn more or enroll now.

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Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Lucky us: We live in a world where many of us have an abundance of choices–where to live, what to do for a living, and, of course, who to marry. Or whether to get married at all.

All these choices give us certain freedoms, but they don’t necessarily make us happier. They create certain perfectionistic expectations: If we aren’t perfectly happy with the one we love, for example, might we have chosen wrong? Should I make a different choice now? Would the grass be greener if I were with my high school sweetheart?

Here’s where I find John and Julie Gottman’s seminal research helpful for understanding the problems of long-term romantic relationships. Here are two key things I’ve learned from them:

First, all couples have problems. Think the grass might be greener? Remember you’re trading out one set of problems for another. It isn’t about finding a conflict-free relationship, or even about solving all of your relationship’s problems, but rather about accepting the problems you can live with.

In her book Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert offers a very useful metaphor for this, quoting her gem-buyer former husband:

A parcel is this random collection of gems that the miner puts together. Supposedly, you get a better deal that way—buying them all in a bunch—but you have to be careful, because [he’s] trying to unload his bad gemstones on you by packaging them together with a few really good ones.

After I got burned enough times, I learned this: You have to ignore the perfect gemstones. Just put them away and have a careful look at the really bad stones. Look at them for a long time, and then ask yourself honestly, “Can I work with these? Can I make something out of this?”

Spouses are much the same: They come with flawed bits as well as sparkly strengths. The question isn’t so much whether you want the sparkly parts (of course you do) but rather whether you can deal with the flaws.

Second, there are really only four types of problems. The key is knowing what type of problem you’ve got, and then deciding whether or not you can work with it. The four kinds of problems are:

(1) One-time, solvable problems. I think many of us bull-headed people assume that all problems are solvable. They’re not.

But some are. These tend to be the types of conflicts that arise from a unique situation rather than differences in our personalities.

Say you want a dog, but your partner doesn’t. This is a conflict that can, in theory, be solved, if you’ve got good conflict resolution skills. If you don’t resolve the conflict, it can turn into #2, below: a conflict that comes up again and again and again, until you just get the darn dog. Or you leave, and then get the dog.

(2) Cyclical conflicts. The Gottmans call these problems “perpetual issues.”  Unlike solvable problems, they are based on fundamental differences in your personalities, emotional needs, or ideas about how you’d like to live life—and they will never, ever go away. Period. Accept that now.

They can become workable, however. The classic example of this is the slob who is married to a neat-nick: She wants the house hospital-clean; he leaves piles of crap everywhere. Being neat is hard for him, but easy for her.

Even if he commits to putting his stuff away, she can’t really turn him into a neat-nick, and so this is a problem that will wax and wane. His efforts to be neat will gradually fade as he gets busy or stressed or just lazy. She’ll get frustrated and the conflict will resurface. He’ll redouble his efforts, and the conflict will fade again, and so on.

The question is not whether you can get the problem to go away completely—you can’t—but whether or not you can establish a constructive dialogue about it and make periodic headway toward solving it.

Cyclical conflicts can actually create intimacy: You’ve worked together to improve a problem, and that feels good. So the question is: Can you arrive at a workable solution, knowing that you will continue to revisit this throughout your time together?

These are the lesser-value gems. Can you work with them?

Some relationship problems are workable. Others aren't. Here's how to tell the difference. Click To Tweet

(3) If you can’t work with those imperfect gems, you’ve got a deal-breaker issue on the table. Abuse is a deal-breaker that sometimes masquerades as a cyclical conflict.

Other deal-breakers aren’t so obvious. I have a friend who couldn’t establish intimacy with her husband unless she was very upset and let him come to her rescue. She got tired of having to be stressed-out (or freaking out) in order to feel connected to him, and she realized this was a deal-breaker for her. If they couldn’t move the problem into a different category—making it a cyclical conflict based on their personality differences—she didn’t want to be in the relationship.

They started seeing a counselor to see if they could establish intimacy in other ways. They couldn’t. After a year of trying in vain to make headway on the problem, they parted ways.

(4) Wounding problems are similar to cyclical ones, in that they can be fights you have with your partner over and over and over. The difference is that you never really make any headway on the issue.

Wounding problems generate frustration and hurt, they get worse over time, and they lead to feeling unloved, unaccepted, and misunderstood. These conflicts are characterized by the presence of the four things that the Gottmans have long found to predict divorce: defensiveness, contempt, criticism, and stonewalling (think of talking to a stone wall: The other person is totally disengaged).

Many couples can move their wounding problems into the cyclical conflict category by learning how to fight differently. Spouses who raise their issues with genuine respect and appreciation for their partner tend to engage in radically different discussions than spouses who launch headlong into a fight and hope to “win” it, blaming and vilifying the other.

So, should you stay or should you go? I shared this framework with a friend who is trying to decide whether or not to stay with her main squeeze.

She wants more romance; he thinks anything that smacks of Hallmark is needy and lame. She’d been thinking this could be a deal-breaker. “It’s NOT a deal-breaker!” she declared with obvious joy. “It’s a CYCLICAL CONFLICT!”

They talked about the conflict in a way that made them both feel understood and loved. He admitted that while romance was hard for him, he enjoyed making her feel loved. They established a dialogue, made some headway (he even brought her flowers the next day), AND have also accepted that this is something likely to arise again in the future.

Knowing that she has a cyclical problem on her hands, and not a deal-breaker, has given my friend some peace.  I hope having a better understanding of the problems that beset relationships also brings you a bit of well-being in this month of love.

Join the discussion: What types of relationship problems do you have? Inspire others by sharing your insights with folks in the comments, below.

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If this post resonates with you, I hope you’ll join our Brave Over Perfect group coaching! Our March theme is all about love and marriage. We’ll show you how to transform even the most challenging relationships, and it’s only $20 to join us for three coaching calls. Get instant access to our group coaching calls (and call recordings), a thriving online community, and online resources. Learn more or enroll now.

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3 Things I Wish Parents – and Teens – Knew About Pot

3 Things I Wish More Parents – and Teens – Knew About Pot

We live in California, where marijuana is now, as of Jan. 1, legal for recreational use. My four teens report that pot is already very easy to come by and that “everyone” uses it. More concerning to me: Many of my friends – fellow parents – believe that teen marijuana use is not harmful.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

First, the good news: Most teens don’t smoke pot or ingest edibles. That said, 41 percent of American high school seniors report having used marijuana or synthetic cannabinoids in the past year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That’s a very large minority. Do they know what they are doing? Here is what I wish all kids – and their parents – knew about pot:

Marijuana slows brain development in adolescence.

Brain development is more significant during adolescence than during any other developmental stage (except in the womb). The transition from childhood to adulthood is a critical period of brain growth, and the brain’s natural endocannabinoid system – which is affected by marijuana use – plays a very important role in this development.

The unique brain growth that we see only during adolescence is temporarily halted by marijuana use. How? Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the ingredient in marijuana that produces a high, binds with the brain’s cannabinoid, or CB1, receptors. This blocks their normal function.

It also makes kids really high. Teenagers have more CB1 receptors than adults do for THC to bind to, and THC also stays in the CB1 receptor for longer than it would in an adult. Neuroscientist Dr. Frances Jensen, author of “The Teenage Brain,” recently told Terry Gross on the NPR program “Fresh Air” that “[THC] locks on longer than in the adult brain…. For instance, if [a teen] were to get high over a weekend, the effects may [still be] there on Thursday and Friday later that week. An adult wouldn’t have that same long-term effect.”

The effect I want parents and teens to understand is this: While THC is in the CB1 receptor, it blocks the process of learning and memory and slows, or stops, adolescent brain development.

Because of this, exposure to marijuana “during adolescence can dramatically alter brain maturation and cause long-lasting neurobiological changes that ultimately affect the function and behavior of the adult brain,” according to a 2014 review of research published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience examining the long-term consequences of marijuana use during adolescence, particularly the effects on cognitive functioning, emotional behavior and the risk of developing a psychiatric disorder in adulthood. The damage is irreversible. Early marijuana use has long-lasting consequences on IQ and intelligence and is “associated with a two-fold increase in the risk of developing a psychotic disorder,” like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, according to the review.

This is not an unproven theory; we understand the neuroscience behind how and why marijuana affects an adolescent brain differently than it would an adult one. Still, 71 percent of high school seniors do not view “regular marijuana usage” to be harmful to their health, based on survey data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Most wouldn’t smoke a cigarette because they understand that smoking is unhealthy; it’s time for us to be more clear with teens that marijuana use is not a healthier choice.

Marijuana today is actually very addictive, especially for teens.

Most people think marijuana is “healthier” than alcohol or tobacco in part because they believe it isn’t addictive. But pot can be very habit-forming. Surprisingly, marijuana use is associated with a higher rate of clinically significant health problems and problematic behaviors among users, such as failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school or home, as well as dependence or addiction than alcohol among users, reports the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and HealthTwenty-one percent of adult marijuana users met diagnostic criteria for addiction, according to that survey. Studies indicate that as many as one-third of users develop a diagnosable addiction, especially with strains of marijuana that have higher THC content.

Teenagers are especially susceptible to addiction – to alcohol, to social media, and yes, to marijuana. In the same way that teens learn faster than adults do, it’s also easier for their brains to “learn” to become addicted. Learning stimulates and enhances the brain. Substances like marijuana do the same thing, but during adolescence, teen brains “build a reward circuit around that substance to a much stronger, harder, longer addiction,” Jensen told Terry Gross. “The effects of substances are more permanent on the teen brain,” she noted. “They have more deleterious effects and can be more toxic to the teen than the adult.”

Pot today is a different drug than it was a generation or two ago.

I think a lot of parents in my generation believe that marijuana isn’t harmful or addictive because it didn’t used to be. THC concentrations have skyrocketed in recent years, and growers have bred the antipsychotic properties out of today’s marijuana.

Reports differ depending on where marijuana is sourced, but studies of THC concentration in cannabis show that before 1980, concentration of THC averaged around 1.5 percent. Potency rose to about 3 percent in the early 1980s and stayed there until about 1992, when it began to rise steadily. In the last decade, samples have averaged about 11 percent THC; and currently, specific breeding techniques are yielding strains that are 27 to 33 percent THC, according to findings published in Biological Psychiatry. Experts believe that this is likely now the norm in states where recreational marijuana is legal; higher THC concentration yields a more lucrative product.

In addition, 20 years ago marijuana had higher levels of cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana. Although CBD has medicinal benefits, growers are breeding it out of marijuana intended for recreational use because it keeps users from getting as high as they would without the CBD.

Higher THC and lower CBD produces a higher high – and also a higher potential for overdose. A THC overdose won’t kill you, but it can produce hallucinations, panic attacks and extreme paranoia. And an overdose can cause a psychotic break and psychotic disorders that can be hard for a teenager to ever recover from.

All of this is to say that marijuana use is not harmless for kids today, by any stretch of the imagination. But as many kids see (and smell) the adults around them getting stoned at concerts, at trailheads before a hike, and now, in California, just walking down the street – they assume that marijuana use is harmless fun.

Given this, my husband and I have taken what is, in our neck of the woods, a controversial stance: We are so clear about our expectation that our teens not use marijuana that we drug test them. We aren’t doing this because we believe our children have or will use drugs, or because we don’t trust them to tell us if they do (no tests have ever turned up positive). We do it because it gives them a solid excuse to abstain; they can say to their friends, “My parents are so crazy about this issue that they drug test me.”

Drug testing is not the only thing we are doing, of course. We talk with our kids regularly about the risks that marijuana poses, and we try to do a lot of listening, too. We are keenly interested in helping our kids develop the skills they need to cope with stress and anxiety– so that they aren’t tempted to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Interestingly, our kids have never protested being tested, and they seem genuinely glad that we are so black and white about all this. They know that they will be making their own choices soon, when they are adults. For now, they seem happy that we are making this choice for them.

This was originally posted on US News & World Report and on MSN.com.


Additional References:
Bose, Jonaki, Sarra L. Hedden, Rachel N. Lipari, Eunice Park-Lee, Jeremy D. Porter, and Michael R. Pemberton. “Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. Published September (2016).

Caulkins, Jonathan P. “The real dangers of marijuana.” National Affairs 26 (2016): 21-24.

El Sohly, Mahmoud A., Zlatko Mehmedic, Susan Foster, Chandrani Gon, Suman Chandra, and James C. Church. “Changes in cannabis potency over the last 2 decades (1995–2014): Analysis of current data in the United States.” Biological psychiatry 79, no. 7 (2016): 613-619.

Renard, Justine, Marie-Odile Krebs, Gwenaëlle Le Pen, and Thérèse M. Jay. “Long-term consequences of adolescent cannabinoid exposure in adult psychopathology.” Frontiers in neuroscience 8 (2014).

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Resolutions Slipping? 5 Quick Ways to Stay the Course

We all understand that when we first attempt to drive a car or ride a bike, we’ll make mistakes. Behavior change is no different; it’s a process of slipping, learning from the mistake, and trying again.”

— John C. Norcross, Changeology

Unless you are some sort of superhero, you will not be able to establish a new habit perfectly the first time. Research indicates that 88 percent of people have failed to keep a new resolution. In my experience as a human being and a coach, 100 percent of people trying to change themselves lapse back to their old selves at least some of the time. So what to do if you’re struggling?

1. Don’t get too emotional about your slip or succumb to self-criticism. Instead, forgive yourself. Remind yourself that lapses are part of the process, and that feeling guilty or bad about your behavior will not increase your future success.

2. Figure out what the problem is. This may be blazingly obvious, but in order to do better tomorrow, you’ll need to know what is causing your trip-ups. What temptation can you remove? Were you stressed or tired or hungry–and if so, how can you prevent that the next time? Figure it out, and make a specific plan for what to do if you find yourself in a similar situation again. What will you do differently? What have you learned from your slip?

3. Beware the “What the Hell” effect. Say you’ve sworn not to check your email before breakfast, but you’ve been online since your alarm went off…three hours ago. You’re now at risk for what researchers formally call the Abstinence Violation Effect (AVE) and jokingly call the “What the Hell” effect. If you’ve already blown your plan today, why not go hog wild? What the hell–you can begin again tomorrow, right? Wrong. The more damage you do during your binge, the more likely you are to slip again the next day, and the less confidence you’ll have in yourself that you can change. So as soon as you notice you’ve slipped, go back to your plan. Double down, friends, double down.

4. Rededicate yourself to your resolution (now, in this instant, not tomorrow). Why do you want to make the changes that you do? How will you benefit? Do a little deep breathing and calm contemplation of your goals.

5. Above all, comfort yourself. To boost follow-through on our good intentions, we need to feel safe and secure. When we are stressed, our brain tries to rescue us by activating our dopamine systems. A dopamine rush makes temptations more tempting. Think of this as your brain pushing you toward a comfort item . . . like the snooze button instead of the morning jog, onion rings instead of mixed greens, or that easy taxi to work rather than the less-than-comfortable urban bike ride. So sometimes the best thing that we can do to help ourselves unplug is to preemptively comfort ourselves in healthy ways. What makes you feel safe and secure–and doesn’t sabotage your goals? Perhaps you need to seek out a hug or take a walk outside.

What are you struggling with? Post a comment and I’ll try to help!

If you want support establishing a new habit, it’s not too late to join our Brave Over Perfect Group Coaching. Our January/February theme is about setting and keeping the right resolutions. It’s only $20 to join us! You’ll get instant access to previous call recordings and an invitation to our next live call. We also have a thriving online community, worksheets, and online resources. Learn more or enroll now.

Cheers to making this your happiest year yet!

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It's not to late to join our Brave Over Perfect coaching group! Our next live call is on January 10th. That gives you plenty of time to listen to the call recording where I laid the foundation for setting goals and thinking about changes you’d like to make in 2018. Our Brave Over Perfect coaching group is a highly effective and extremely inexpensive alternative to life coaching and, for some people, therapy. If you’re interested in personal growth, this is less a lot less work than reading a book (and at only $20 for three calls, it’s totally affordable). Learn more or Register now.

Find more joy and fulfillment this year

It’s not to late to join our Brave Over Perfect coaching group! Our next live call is on January 10th. That gives you plenty of time to listen to the call recording where I laid the foundation for setting goals and thinking about changes you’d like to make in 2018.

Our Brave Over Perfect coaching group is a highly effective and extremely inexpensive alternative to life coaching and, for some people, therapy. If you’re interested in personal growth, this is less a lot less work than reading a book (and at only $20 for three calls, it’s totally affordable). Learn more or Register now.

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Happiness Habits Worth Cultivating

Happiness Habits Worth Cultivating

Happy New Year! Do you need some ideas for how to be happy in the New Year?  Check out this oldie but goodie Greater Good graphic!

If you’re looking for support setting and keeping resolutions like these, please  join our Brave Over Perfect Group Coaching community. Our January theme is all about setting and keeping the right resolutions. It’s only $20 to join us! Get instant access to three live coaching calls (and call recordings), a thriving online community, worksheets, and online resources. Learn more or enroll now.

Cheers to making 2018 your happiest year yet!

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Habits are everything

Habits Are Everything

You might know how to be happy, but can you do it?

Watch a video of any elite athlete or performer before a big game or show, and you will likely see one thing: their pre-performance habits, the things that they do every single time in exactly the same way.

This is because habits are everything. Not just for game-day, and not just for elite performers. For normal people like you and I, for raising our children, for being happy in our relationships, for being happy as individuals.

Our routines and habits allow us to access a part of our brain that runs on relatively little gas. The newer (in evolutionary terms) part of your brain—your smarty-pants pre-frontal cortex, the area that sets you apart from the family dog—works pretty well. But it requires effort and willpower to make it tick. The more you use it throughout a day, the less reliable it becomes. Low blood sugar? Your decision-making will falter, whether you realize it or not.

Good thing there is a back-up plan in the older part of your brain: your basal ganglia, a primitive knob of tissue deep in your noggin that acts as your own personal auto-pilot. It controls your breathing, and swallowing, and that weird way that you sometimes drive to work while sort-of unconscious.

Your basal gangla is, among other things, your habit center. And once it is programed, it requires no effort on your part to accomplish truly amazing feats. (Really. Charles Duhigg, in his inspiring book The Power of Habit, gives a detailed account of the way Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps won his world records by honing his habits.)

This means that when we are too tired to think—as we often are—we default to our habits. Which made me realize: Our habits are our most critical cornerstones for happiness.

I have long advocated finding habits and routines that actually work.  It doesn’t have to be the most efficient or productive routine; it’s simply one that makes us feel good, or at least it doesn’t make us feel bad.

We need a dinnertime routine that creates feelings of gratitude rather than annoyance, for example, and a morning routine that doesn’t make us want to lay our heads down and cry before we even get to work. We also need bedtime routines for ourselves and our children that don’t leave us exhausted and irritable.

An important caveat: Cultivating habits and routines doesn’t mean that we go through life mindlessly. I mention this because mindfulness—when we consciously pay attention to what we’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing in the present moment, without judging our thoughts and feelings as “good” or “bad”—is a research-tested way to reduce our stress and, generally, be happier.

How can we be mindful about things we do habitually?

Well, consider how we breath. On the one hand, our breathing is on auto-pilot—we aren’t thinking, “Okay, now I need to breathe in! Now breathe out! And in! And out!” At the same time, though, we can pay attention to our breath as a part of a meditation or another relaxation practice.

So when we make something a habit—say, washing the dishes right after dinner—we don’t need to become mindless about it—we can still pay attention to the way the water feels on our hands, for instance, or even appreciate the fact that we have dishes and food to eat off of in the first place. Habits can make something relatively routine and effortless, but not necessarily mindless. In fact, I find it much easier to be mindful about something once it is a habit—once I’m not trying to figure out what I’m going to do, or how I’m going to do it, or even IF I’m going to do something.

So our habits can routinely make us feel grateful, or joyful, and they can prompt us to pay attention and be mindful. But HOW?

I have spent years pondering this question, subjecting my clients and readers to my habit tracker and methods for getting into better routines.

Habits are a critical component of the happiness equation. It is one thing to know what to do to be happy (or to raise happy children, or to create a happy marriage) but it is quite another thing to actually be able to do those things. You know that you should exercise and meditate and eat kale, for example. But do you often do those things? Perhaps the missing piece is a habit.

What bad habit would you like to kick in the coming year? What new habit would make you a happier person, or happier parent, or happier spouse? If you’d like support, I hope you’ll consider enrolling in Brave Over Perfect Group Coaching. Our January theme is about how to set and keep the right resolutions. It’s only $20 to join us! Get instant access to three live coaching calls (and call recordings), a thriving online community, worksheets, and online resources. Learn more or enroll now.

Cheers to making 2018 your happiest year yet!


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