Tuesday, December 17, 2013


It is time for us to consider "New Year's Resolutions."  Even though many of us have gotten over the 'resolution' thing, a new year can't really start without us at least considering what we might want to do differently in 2014. 

I do think it's a good thing to periodically reflect on where we are in life.  How happy we are. Do we need to consider making some changes in order to be happier? And you don't have to wait until the new year comes around.  You should be monitoring your overall mood, and personal growth throughout the year.

The tradition is to make a list of 10 New Year's Resolutions.  That's likely a reason that many of us skip this annual tradition.  10 can be a lot, unless you're really messed up (just kidding!).  I suggest that you look at a couple of things in your life, for example, relationships (personal and professional), health (exercise and diet), what I like to call "excesses" (alcohol, drugs, food, spending, internet), spirituality.  See if there's room for improvement.  Usually there is.  Then identify a goal (for example, to exercise 3-4 times per week), and start with a baby-step (a walk on the beach on the weekend). 

That's how you do it.  Let me know if you need some help, and have a HAPPY 2014.

See my earlier postings on New Year's Resolutions: Two Thousand Eleven, 12/12/10; No Resolutions For 2010, 1/1/10; A New Year's Jingle, 12/22/08; T'was The Night After Christmas (Parts 1 and 2), 12/2/07 and 12/12 07. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fix Your Anger, Now

I counsel a lot of people who have anger problems, both young and old. People throw tantrums, scream and shout, break things, shoot. People get hurt. Too often your anger hurts others. Fortunately, a lot of people are sorry about how they may have hurt someone as a result of their anger. Unfortunately their regret typically doesn't cause them to do anything about changing it. Most often someone else (a partner, parent, close friend, or legal authorities) forces them to come for help. There is a lot that can be done to help you express your anger in a healthy, appropriate way, getting the message across much more effectively than when you might 'lose it.' Let me also say, that I help people who have difficulty expressing anger (and other feelings) at all. Maybe afraid of confrontation. Many of them end up getting taken advantage of, or holding it in and getting depressed. Or holding it in until you "explode." Let's look at learning to manage your anger so it works for you.

First of all anger is a normal emotion. So you have to be able to get angry, and acknowledge it. Become aware of the situations that tend to trigger your anger. A lot of people report that it comes over them suddenly, "before I know it..." If you learn the situations that trigger your anger you can be better prepared when those situations arise. Anger expression becomes a habit for us. If it's bad angry behavior, then it's a habit that you want to break (and replace with a good one!).

I teach RELAXATION BREATHING, breathing deeply into your stomach (see my posting of 3/11/11, Take A Moment, ..... BREATHE, and Youtube video), as a tool to help you break the bad habit, and learn to manage your anger the way you should. Your angry behavior typically occurs at the end of a chain of events. Some of which you may not even be aware of that contribute to it. If you are having a stressful day, or something at work triggers some anger that you can't express there, then there may be some unexpressed build-up that gets unleashed elsewhere. Or perhaps you're an angry person with a lifetime of "build-up," and certain situations more easily push you over the angry "edge." Learn as much as possible about your reactions, especially the chain of events and the triggers that provoke your anger. BREATHING at any point along that chain helps stop the build-up. At whatever point you actually feel yourself getting angry, BREATHE and redirect your energy towards an appropriate expression of your feelings, or towards a calming thought/memory (I sometimes suggest carrying around a picture of your grandchild, or a pet, something that brings an immediate smile to your face). If you are in the middle of a conflict that escalates to anger, BREATHE and it won't get out of control. You may have to leave the argument, and return to resolve it when you've gotten under better control. It is important to return to resolve it, or you can keep having the same argument over and over again.

If you are using your anger as a weapon in your relationships, or as a tool to control others, get help. If you are using your anger to avoid other feelings that make you feel vulnerable or weak (like sadness, fear) then learn to understand those feelings and yourself better. You'll feel better. Lastly, don't beat yourself up because you've developed some bad habits. There are reasons for the habits that we develop that often we had no choice about, because a lot starts in childhood. However, you are an adult now, and you DO have choices. Don't continue to choose to hurt your self and those around you by letting your anger make you "mad."

Reprinted from 2011

Other postings by me on this subject include: Communication: Learn How To Fight (5/21/12), and What Are You So Mad About (5/12/10).


Sunday, September 15, 2013

OH, HOW RUDE!! (reprint)

How many times have you said this, or at least thought it? Too many times. Especially lately. It seems like rudeness is getting worse. Me and the wife (it's not rude to refer to her as "the wife," is it?) are having some lunch at the local Whole Foods. Not your ritzy restaurant, but you gotta eat. This woman was having a loud cell phone conversation standing a few feet away. C'mon! Our dirty looks didn't work. Without thinking too much about it, I started speaking loudly to my lovely wife. The rude woman couldn't hear who she was talking to on her phone. She huffed, and took it outside. Did she learn anything? Probably not. Did Linda and I exchange a hearty fist bump (and a good laugh)? We sure did.

I find that I have to tolerate so much rudeness nowadays. I try to find opportunities to fight back (politely). I implore you to help fight this terrible trend in our country. I do it mostly by being nice to and considerate of people, when I can. By ignoring a lot of what unmannerly, selfish people do. And then occasionally just refusing to tolerate it (like we did at Whole Foods). I was reading a Psychology Today (December, 2009) on this topic. There was a suggestion that the advances in technology are partly responsible. Cell phones, e-mail, the internet including social networks (like MySpace, and Facebook) do offer a lot more opportunities to be rude, even anonymously. But it's PEOPLE who are rude. We are responsible for our rudeness. And just because it's easier now, and so many people do it, you are not relieved of your responsibility to display good manners, be courteous, and, yes, to even be kind to your fellow human beings.

I don't care if it's your culture (to not say thank you for a door held open for you), or if it's a child (that you speak rudely to), or you think you have a good reason (to flip someone off who beeped their car horn to avoid an accident with you while you were on your cell phone or texting, and not paying attention). Be Respectful.

Remember how connected everyone felt after 9/11? Flying flags and being nice to each other. Proud to be an American. Love and brotherhood were in the air. Well the air is stinking with rudeness now. Here's an idea (I don't think it's new). Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

One last thing: Telephone solicitors who call every Sunday evening at dinner time need to stop it. HOW RUDE!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Peer Pressure...Good and Bad

People are influenced by social relationships starting in preschool (when your kid brings home someone else's cold). And they should be. We are social beings. If you think you can control who your child comes into contact with, you're wrong. Sure you can influence their social environment (for example, public vs. private, or religion-based school), but you will be much more effective if you teach your child how to choose healthy relationships and they know that they can come to you for help when they need it. And of course you have to BE THERE for them.

We all have a need for attention and acknowledgement, in order to feel good about ourselves. The more you give your child (especially early on), the less they'll need to get it elsewhere. They will be more confident, make better decisions, and choose peer relationships that add to their lives, rather than take away from it. I mean they will choose friends who support the kind of values that you agree with. If your child NEEDS to be accepted by others, can't make decisions well, HAS to feel like a part of something (other than your family), then they will be more likely to respond to negative peer pressure. Maybe they'll try drugs to "fit in." Maybe join a gang to "belong." Perhaps pick on other kids to feel better about themselves.

Require that your child introduce you to their friends. Get to know them. Don't overdo it though. Embarrassing your kids doesn't bring them closer, it pushes them away. Encourage your child to participate in organized sport or social activities. Help your child learn the difference between good and bad peers, then you won't have to worry about their friends pressuring them to make bad choices.

How about the social pressure we feel as adults?  We are more likely to be influenced by our friends (or media images and role models), good and bad, if we're in unhappy relationships, or are lacking confidence in our lives and life choices.  Consider the people you spend your social time with.  Do they influence you positively, or ...  For example, some friends we tend to drink more with, or spread negative gossip, or trash our spouse.  Are these friends or frienemies?  [See my posting of 4/22/2008, Beware Of Toxic People].  I'm just saying, while we're trying to protect our kids from negative peer pressure, let's also look at who we're choosing to spend our time with.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


          It's that time again. Seemed like a short summer, huh? When preparing to start the school year, it is important to have the clothes, and school supplies. However, it is also important to prepare your child's mindset for success. Make it a family affair. Have a family meeting (or several) to discuss yours and your child's expectations for this year, and plan to communicate daily (even if just to check in on their school day). And show them how much confidence you have in them and their work (see Focus On The Positive, 7/25/07). This is not just if you have young children. It may be more necessary for your teen (see Teenagers, ... What Can I Say? 11/9/07), and helpful for the young college student.
          You should consider developing a contract (Contract For Success, 8/2/07) with your child that includes REWARDS (lots), agreements about grades and homework (Homework, 8/21/07), and include any behavior issues that need to be focused on. Read my postings addressing peer pressure (Peer Pressure, Good and Bad, 8/15/07), and the use of video games (Video Games, ... Good And Bad, You Decide,10/28/07), to get some ideas about these issues. Of course, it is important to have a relationship with your child's teacher (Your Child, Your Teacher, and You: A Team For Success, 8/29/07).

          Be aware that their return to school will likely increase your child's stress (Managing School Stress, 8/9/07). There are a lot of educational, and social demands made on your child at this time. Even if they like school they can run into some difficulties that require your assistance. Make sure they eat right, exercise, and communicate about any concerns that arise. If your child's behavior or stress problems begin to interfere with their school performance (Oppositional Defiant Disorder, 10/18/08; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, 6/17/08) or you get concerned about drug use, get help. Don't wait for the problem to grow out of control (When Should We Get Help, 9/5/07). Remember to be optimistic, and have high (realistic) expectations. HAVE A GOOD YEAR!

Monday, July 1, 2013


Last month we went on a great vacation trip to San Diego.  One of the things that made it so enjoyable was visiting our friends Stacey and Adam and enjoying the ceviche that Adam made. 

I've always been reluctant to explore preparing ceviche because of the idea of not cooking the fish that we are going to eat.  Well I learned, and got the opportunity to enjoy, the non-traditional "cooking" of  fish that I love. As you'll see in the recipe below, the fish cooks in lemon and lime juices.  The acid of the juice does actually cook the fish that is soaking in it.  We tried it.  It came out great.  I want to share it with you.  Let me know what you think.
Adam's Ceviche

1 - 2 lbs.  Scallops/Red Snapper/Tuna or other Fresh Fish (we used lobster, mahi, scallops, and cooked shrimp)
1 lb. Shrimp (small, cooked)
1/2 cup chopped onions (or more depending on your taste)
3/4 cups cilantro
2 - 3 large tomatoes, chopped
2 stems green onion, chopped
3 lemons (juice)
3 limes (juice)
salt, ground pepper (to taste, we left the salt out)
jalapeno chile or serrano pepper, chopped (optional)
1 cup clam juice (optional)
1 small can tomato sauce (optional)
red pepper flakes (to taste, optional)
garlic, minced (optional)


Cut the fresh fish and cooked shrimp and put it into a mixing bowl, with the chopped vegetables, cilantro, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  Add clam juice and/or tomato sauce. 
Pour the juice of the lemons and the limes over the mixture. Be sure the fish is all covered by the juice.
Cover the bowl and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.  It is good to serve with tortillas, or other chips.

Get creative with this recipe.  Adam won't mind.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

LOVE FAQs: Do You 'Love', or Are You 'In Love'?

What is the difference between 'loving' someone, and being 'in-love' with someone?

People often say to me, when their relationship isn't working, "Well, I love him, but I'm not in love with him.  Do you know what I mean?"  I do know what they mean.  That they're not as happy with their partner as they think they should be, maybe as they used to be.  They may want to fix it, or they may be convincing themselves that it's time to move on. 

When talking about relationships I do differentiate between loving someone and being in love with them.  And you can have one without the other. Being in love is a more stable, and usually more lasting love.  It includes trust, intimacy, vulnerability, and takes time to develop.  It is less conditional on the day to day interactions of the individuals with each other. I think this is as close to "unconditional love" as adults can be with each other.  And it takes time to develop.   It typically includes the "other" kind of love.

The "other" kind of love is a strong feeling of desire, and compassion that is more 'in the moment'.  Still a very strong feeling, but more susceptible to interference by other emotions such as anger, fear, and jealousy.  It is influenced more by the daily interactions with your partner.   As the Persuaders' song suggests, there is a "thin line" between THIS kind of love, and hate.

Why is this distinction relevant?  Because we fall in love all the time.  And the feeling of love is so strong that it can cause us to tolerate bad relationships longer than we should, or not work as hard on the relationship as we should.  As a result, if the relationship fails we think love (and it's close relative, happiness) can't work for us.  Not realizing that perhaps you didn't invest as much time developing the "love" as you should have, in order to reap the reward that you've dreamt about from love, Eternal Bliss. 

Yes, I do believe that couples can feel eternal bliss in their relationship.  It requires work before you commit, and continuous effort throughout the relationship.  It takes time.  So, "love at first sight" can still happen, and be great fun.  That "love" can lead you right into being "in-love", but don't have the expectation that automatically you can trust, be vulnerable and live in eternal bliss without tolerating some bumps in the road.  Don't let it make you miss the "red flags" that should steer you away from emotional danger. 

Good communication is still a very important skill for a couple to develop and practice in order to maintain a healthy and happy, loving relationship.  Don't you deserve that?  

[see other Love FAQs in my blog posting of 2/7/2013]

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


All habits are hard to break. But we do need to keep the good ones. In fact, one of the strategies to help break bad habits is to replace them with good ones.

First a few words about bad habits.  Of course there's more than just the obvious bad ones, ie. smoking, substance abuse, excessive gambling, etc.  There are also bad relationship-habits.  For example, arguing, gossip, being the "know-it-all".  We also have thinking habits which interfere with our lives, some of which we may not even be aware of.  Fears, prejudices, obsessions, worries, etc.

I'm going to offer a definition of 'bad habit' as  any repetitive behavior or thought that interferes with your life.  That would be your health, job, relationships, peace of mind, any important aspect of your life.  And most often these behaviors/thoughts are automatic.  We often don't think about them  before doing them.


1. Identify the habit, and acknowledge that it's bad, based on the effects on you and those around you.  Break your denial.

2.  Identify the triggers.  Acknowledging the connection between the trigger and the behavior/thought  gives you more control over it.  That's not enough to eliminate the behavior, but it's a start towards breaking the habit.

3.  Know that you don't necessarily have to eliminate the behavior completely to break the habit.  Some behaviors can't be eliminated, for example, you can control your overeating though you still have to eat.

4.  Make small (easier) changes that reduce the frequency of the behavior. For example, no smoking in the car, or don't assume (a thinking habit) that your teenager is being disrespectful EVERY time she/he has a different idea than you do. You'll begin to realize the success you can have controlling, and changing your habits.  Taking small steps will lead to major changes.

5. Optional:  Keep a record of how often you do the behavior.  This also helps you to control the behavior by keeping track of your gradual improvement. You get to see which triggers create greater obstacles.  Small setbacks (if they occur) won't seem so monumental.

6.  Find a positive activity to replace the bad habit.  For example, listen to your teen (or partner, or coworker) before reacting and choose a different response (don't pre-judge).  If you do have a setback, do what you can to correct it and get back on track.

7.  Enlist the support of people around you who care (family, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, etc.).

8.  REWARD YOURSELF for small successes.  This will help you stay motivated.

If your bad habits continue to get the best of you, get some help.


Thursday, February 7, 2013


          With Valentine's Day coming, love is in the air. Of course it should be everyday, but too often we just don't feel it.  From my work with couples as well as with individuals who are trying to find love, I've identified some of the frequently asked questions that people ask to find the right relationship or  fix the one they're in.

1.  How do I find the man/woman of my dreams?
     Dream about the person that you want in your life.  Imagine them as specifically as you can, including their appearance, lifestyle, career, views of life, etc.  This will help you focus your search, and more easily feel in tune with the person when you meet them,  You'll feel more comfortable, familiar.  Like you know them.  You'll be more likely to be able to pick them out of a crowd.

2.  How do we keep from having bad arguements?
     Stop arguing.  You and your partner make an agreement to stop the arguement before it gets started.  Notice when your disagreement is headed toward more heat than your normal problem-solving conversation, and one of you call it to a halt.  Take a deep breath and go calm down.  Come back later and resolve whatever the original issue was.  "Don't attend every argument that you're invited to." [For more on conflict resolution see my posting,   http://thefreelsgroup.blogspot.com/2012/05/communication-learn-how-to-fight.html ]

3.  Why does my partner shut down every time we have a disagreement?
     Couples tend to develop habits between them. Most of those habits are usually pretty good, but some can be bad for the relationship.  Look at what you might be contributing to the poor communication. Encourage him (usually it's us guys who have so much more difficulty talking about emotional issues) to talk about what's going on with them.  And you listen.  Patiently.  Let him finish.  Assuming that the two of you are working on resolving this problem together, take some opportunities to practice discussing difficult (emotionally charged) issues.  The more practice you two get, the better you'll get at it. 

4. How do you forgive?
     First make sure they're finished with the bad behavior.  It's hard to forgive someone who screamed at you (for example) if they're still doing it.  Remember that this is the person that you love (or care about).  Separate the person that you care about from the behavior that you don't like.  You can forgive the person, even though you are still angry, and recovering from, the hurtful behavior.  It helps a lot if the person is apologetic and trying to make it up to you. [ For more on this see my posting, Consider Forgiveness,... http://thefreelsgroup.blogspot.com/2008/05/consider-forgiveness.html

5.  Should I have access to my partner's phone (and computer passwords, etc.)?
     If you are living together, yes.
To Be Continued...



Monday, January 21, 2013


What combines guns, violence and kids? Violent video games.  Very sadly kids sit for hours and hours playing at shooting and killing people, human-like creatures, even zombies.  Young children play games on-line which use cartoon characters to kill other cartoon characters.  At a very early age children are learning to devalue life.  They are becoming desensitized to killing.  There is also too much exposure to violent behavior on TV and in movies. 

Star Jones on the Today Show said, "Violence has been turned into an ok form of pornography for kids." Sad but true.

Don't allow your kids overexposure to violent behavior in any form.   It teaches them violent behavior.  How much is too much? You be the judge (not your kid).

While we are on this subject, there are a few other things that we can do to combat this "overexposure".  Teach your child to label and express their feelings healthily.  Especially anger (and sadness, which can turn into anger).  Teach them to talk about it.  Talk to them also about some of the violence that they encounter, and is in their world.  Bullying, war and other killing reported in the news.  Help them process, understand, these events.  To not accept it as a normal part of life.  Also teach them kindness and caring. To relate to others with compassion even when they disagree with them. One of the best ways to teach them is to model this behavior. 

There is too much violence in our lives.  The best way to combat it is to understand that there are always other options, and to choose them.