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Slow Down (apply to as many situations as needed).

There’s good data that shows none of us are as good at multitasking as we think we are. Actually we’re terrible multitaskers. We do our best work when we do things one at a time. 

You might disagree. I didn’t believe it when I heard it from the folks form University of Washington that taught me Dialectical Behavior Therapy. That’s a therapy that does in part a good job of operationalizing common sense. The truth is that we never really multitask meaning that we don’t really do two things at once. We do them one at a time whether we know it or not whether we believe it or not. 

When we think we’re multitasking we’re actually moving our attention from one thing say the person we’re having dinner with to another say the phone on the table next to our plate. 

It’s natural for our attention to jump from one thing to another. Somebody once described our minds like puppies. They’re curious, well-meaning, and easily distracted. Don’t kick your puppy. 

So let’s give up on multitasking and adopt intentionality. Let’s do one thing and then shift our focus to the next thing and do that next thing. Go slower. Remind your puppy to be good. You’ll enjoy the good things more. The bad things will not be worse. Go slower as often as possible. 

Define Winning For Yourself

Define winning for yourself or you’ll lose the comparison game. 

We all need to feel successful. It’s fundamental to building and maintaining lasting self esteem. The want to win is an instinct that runs in background of our minds. 

Your innate desire for success is your friend if you know exactly what you’re playing for. If you don’t have a plan, watch out.  Your innate need for success which helps us feel strong, capable, and good about ourselves will seek validation by comparing yourself to others. 

Most of us today are watching enhanced highlight reels of other people’s lives on social media. Remember those feeds are almost always just showing the good times with a little enhancement. I know I don’t post much when Laura and I have fights or if I’m feeling depressed or anxious. I deal with those things offline. Then when I feel better, post away! So, if you’re getting your self esteem from the comparison game and you’re comparing your whole life to other people’s filter-draped highlight reels you’ll feel bad. 

Break this cycle by setting your own definition of success. Want to write a book? Success can be getting a chapter done. Want to own a house? Success can be earning and saving enough for a down payment. Want a good relationship? Success can be putting yourself out there when it’s really easier to stay home and watch Netflix. 

Know what you’re playing for. Build in stair stepped small goals that lead to what you want. Celebrate each small win. In this life we’re better off pushing for personal records in the parts of life that matter to us rather than trying to measure up to someone else. They’re playing an entirely different game than you. You’re playing an entirely different game than them. Your own. 

Get Relief But Don’t Forget to Find Joy

Relief isn’t joy but it sure does feel good. 

If you’ve been hurting physically or emotionally in that chronic way that seems too common these days, and the pain stops the relief is palpable. I’ve seen it with my clients. I’ve felt it myself. 

For a lot of us who dedicate ourselves to overcoming injury, aging, mental disorders, or any other kind of chronic suffering know that recovery takes slow and steady commitment. Persistence is key. When all that work pays off that’s a huge win. Celebrate it. Then when you’re ready ask yourself the question, “Now what?”

After you’ve gotten your relief then determine what it is that makes you interested, motivated, or maybe even passionate. It could be serving others. Maybe you want that new car. Some people pursue their spirituality. What it is doesn’t matter as long as it matters to you. 

Move toward the things in life that matter most to you and you’ll give yourself more chances at happiness. That’s joy. I hope you find yours.

So You Can Give. How Are You at Receiving?

Receiving love is a skill and some of us aren’t good at it. 

What makes hearing nice things about ourselves so uncomfortable?

Many of us were told not to be “selfish.” Selfishness is so wrong in fact that even hearing good stuff about YOU might feel as if you’re doing something wrong. If you tend to reflect compliments back to the source maybe you have this faulty core belief.  Does this sound familiar…

She: “You’re so funny.” 

Me: “No I’m not. I’m not nearly as funny as you are.”

You caught that part about the “faulty core belief” right? Receiving compliments IS NOT being selfish.

Some of us have been on the receiving end of unwanted attention. Trauma, harassment, bullying are all unwanted realities today. One way to cope with unwanted bad attention is to make yourself a very small target. In this situation being seen even in a positive way can trigger our danger fight or flight response. When someone really sees you, even in a good way, feels really bad. That’s when the denials come as an emotional reflex. 

Me: “Wow. That was really great. You’re so smart.”

She: “Oh, no I’m not.”

So it’s understandable that sometimes we’re not good at receiving open expressions of love and admiration but that’s a fundamental part of loving relationships. So how do we learn to receive? 

Update Your Lexicon (every two years)

Cisgender straightish white men shouldn’t define the language that identifies women, people of color, the LGBTQIA community, differently abled people, or any other diverse population. But we did. We were wrong.

Ideally we would have had a world where individuals and like minded people would have had the rights to claim their own identifying words and to explain them to others without judgement or reproach. Sadly, that world has never been.

We live in a world driven in part by human tribal instincts that will if unchecked urge us to see groups. “Us” and “them.” “In” versus “out.” “Good” and “bad.” It’s our nature. It’s in our biology. It is not however fate. Our base instincts do not have to rule our natures. We can be better. We should strive to be better. We must be better. It’s possible.

Thanks to a broadening understanding of real diversity many peoples are reclaiming old words for themselves. New words and identifying language are being coined almost all the time. Sometimes confusing for me. What do people want to be called? What pronouns should I use for different individuals? I’m not sure sometimes. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable, awkward even. To myself I say, “Suck it up. Deal with it.”

As a member of the dominant culture here in the US the least I can do is regularly update the language in my lexicon. This point was one of the early lessons that hit home for me in my certification program as a sex educator. Identifying language around gender and sexuality is changing dramatically every two years. Deal with it Brown. Stay current.

When I don’t know, ask. Worry about being emotionally correct not politically correct. In other words be kind, be curious, be gentle. I can’t think of a more beautiful way to say fuck you to the patriarchy than that.

Insistent, Consistent, Persistent

“How do I know if my child is really transgender?” is the most common question I’ve gotten since I started my sex educator and sex therapy training program at the University of Michigan school of social work. The question is coming from caring parents who are afraid that their kids are going through a phase and aren’t really transgender. Parents are worried about the long term consequences of body altering drugs and medical procedures. I get the concern. .

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Transgender children are so important that we started talking about how to support them on the first day of my sex educator training. Dr. Eli Green taught the class and he literally wrote the book on teaching transgender. (link here).

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Dr. Green made two points that really hit home for me. First, transgender kids know early that there’s a disconnect between themselves and their bodies. Their complaints about this disconnect will be insistent, consistent, and persistent. Second, puberty suppressing drugs can buy precious time for parents to catch up to their kids’ gender identity before sex hormones change the game..

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The drugs are administered to the kids but they are really for their parents..

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It takes parents more time to wrap their minds around their kids being transgender than the kids themselves. It makes sense when you think about it. Yes parents are adults, chronologically anyway, and have more life experience but transgender kids are the experts in themselves. They’re the ones living in their own skins. Parents will often need more time to adjust the visions in their heads of their children to the realities of the people right in from of them. It’s been the same story of parents and kids for generations. Some parents believe their kids to be what they want or need them to be and they have difficulty reconciling those fantasies with who their children really are. .

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My advice to parents is to listen to your kids. When they are saying the same thing to you insistently, consistently, and persistently, believe them. Listen. Be open. Be kind. Educate yourself. Get your own support. Trust your kids. Help them be who they are.

Your Emotions Are Your Sixth Sense

Your emotions are your 6th sense. They’re full of all kinds of information. Problem is it’s all in code.

Crack to code by becoming emotionally literate. Get emotionally literate not just to feelings in general although that helps. Learn your own emotional language. 

To crack your emotional code first learn what feelings you’re having. Pay attention to you. Tune into yourself. What are you feeling in your body? Is it a good/pleasurable feeling or is it a bad/painful feeling? When does your mood shift? Is it going up or down? 

Next put a name to your emotional experience. Joy, happiness, sad, hurt, disgust, grief, excitement, guilt, shame, empathy, anger, surprise, confusion, hunger, dissociation, tired, desire, boredom…

What is that feeling telling you? Guilt might tell you that you’ve done something against your own values. Anger might be saying someone’s crossed a line with you. Shame might be telling you that you need to change something. Hurt could mean that you need self-care or protection or healing. Anxiety might be alerting you to danger. 

It’s important to know if your emotional communication system is well calibrated. Some of the things that can cause your 6th sense to misfire could be substance use, sleep deprivation, illness, malnutrition, depression, anxiety disorders, injuries. Some old coping mechanisms can also interfere with our emotional data stream. These might include denial, projection, commitment to a victim position in our relationships, and more. 

If your emotional system is out of whack sleep, diet, exercise, medicine, meditation, prayer, therapy all might help. A mental health pro can help you put a plan together that works for you. 

Crack the code and your feelings will tell you what you need to do, what choice to make, and what direction to head. With your 6th sense you’ll better understand who you are and what kind of life you want.