Category Archives: Psychological Survival Skills

ADHD, MDHD*: Attention, Mindfulness and the Zeitgeist of Disorder

IMG00054-20100925-1729Four articles in three sections of today’s The New York Times on how we do (and don’t) focus our minds – and how we can (and might) do so for the better.  They’re onto something.

In his review of Daniel Goleman’s new book, “Focus:  The Hidden Driver of Excellence,” Nicholas Carr describes how Stephen Dedalus “monitors his thoughts without reining them in” as an example of open awareness, one of many types of awareness Goleman details (  In “Jumper Cables for the Mind,” Dan Hurley reports on tDCS at Harvard’s Laboratory of Neuromodulation, and research that shows low voltage electrical brain stimulation seems to enhance any number of cognitive functions( David Hochman, in “Mindfulness at Every Turn,” details the increasing reach of mindfulness: the Marine Corps, Silicon Valley, The Huffington Post (  And Clive Thompson’s “Brain Game,” the subject of Walter Isaacson’s review, proposes an increasing reliance on “intelligence amplification,” human cognition harnessed to the power of computers ( 

As a psychologist and psychotherapist who has been involved in mindfulness education since the late ’60’s (when it was called meditation), and integrative medicine before it had a name, this explosion of interest in expanding awareness and increasing attention – improving the powers of the mind – thrills me.  I’m all for anything that increases compassionate awareness and improves attention:  for my clients, my patients, our children, and certainly myself.

The idea of “more, better” is as American as it gets, and I’m all for more and better when it comes to the mind.  But I’ve got some reservations about the how of all this.  The selling of mindfulness seems somehow antithetical to the very acceptance mindfulness cultivation strives for.  And it may seem a strange thing for a psychologist whose focus is on problem solving to say, but life is not simply a problem to be solved.

Hegel supposed that all art is a reflection of the time in which it is created; the same is no doubt true of the psychological arts.  Ours is a time when excellence is valued.  Not necessarily the pursuit of excellence, however.  We like our accomplishments big and easy and fast.  And the improvement of mental functioning, while often shockingly quick when we begin proper training, is indeed a lifelong practice.  In it for the long haul, not simply for today’s trend.

Training takes practice.  So why bother?

When we correlate attention solely with achievement, we limit what the mind can do even as we improve our chances for success.  Just as an efficient laser requires vast numbers of atoms in an excited state, our human laser-like focus, so crucial for excellence in completing many tasks, requires a ramping up of very specific kinds of attention.  As we learn more about the brain’s neuroplasticity – and apply ever more sophisticated technology – exciting real life applications will allow us to improve attention.  An eye surgeon focuses his attention as well as his laser beam, and a good thing that is.  But while a  laser can attain and sustain this heightened excitation and focus, we, on the other hand, experience stress in response to the demand for constant laser-like focus.  We can focus our attention sharply and well – but only for so long.

We also require rest.

But what is the nature of the rest we require?  Not the sort of lack of attention we often choose: multi-tasking, zoning out, mindlessly watching tv, texting while talking and walking.  Divided attention does not refresh, it simply provides a break from the intensity of single focus attention.

What is the awareness that refreshes?

Open awareness, mindfulness, the meditative state.  The form really doesn’t matter.  Pick and choose,  try a form that suits, or try one and switch to another.  What matters is the ongoing practice of focusing awareness, even while accepting all the gyrations of mind that accompany the attempt to do so.  We can quiet the “monkey mind” with practice, but not by ignoring or drugging away our thoughts and feelings.

Focused attention AND open awareness.  We need both for success in accomplishing our goals, and success in living a fulfilled life.  Both.  And both can be improved – greatly – through practice.   It may seem an oxymoron, but research has shown what generations (and other cultures) know: the work of improving attention and awareness mean less stress, increased productivity, and happier lives.

* Mindfulness Disorder, with and without hyperactivity

Copyright © 2013  Marlin S. Potash, Ed.D.  All rights reserved.  


Feeling Up in Down Times named as one of the 25 Best Blogs for Coping With Unemployment » Online College Search – Your Accredited Online Degree Directory

The 25 Best Blogs for Coping With Unemployment – #9

Anger Management, Part 2

The Deadly Sin of Anger - Jacques Callot

Raising your voice. Yelling. Screaming, even.  Threats. Put downs. Innuendo. Hurling insults. Bullying.

They may be effective shutting people up. They may put others in their place, all right. They may get you heard, maybe even listened to.

But they are only the booby prize, a weak facsimile of real, demonstrable strength.  Strength under pressure, strength with grace, strength of purpose, strength of character, strength to count on — that strength is quiet, focused.

The strong person needn’t react; the strong person considers, and acts only when and how it best suits her and her goals.

The strong person needn’t threaten; the strong person simply DOES.

The strong person needn’t announce;  the strong person simply DECIDES FOR HIMSELF when, if, how to take action.

The strong person needn’t justify or defend; the strong person simply ASSUMES the right to her own position and power.

The strong person needn’t harden into position or get stuck in “being right”; the strong person can afford to listen.  And to change his mind.  Even to admit to being wrong.

Because it is the coward who cannot face being wrong.  It is the coward who must be right, rather than get it right.

The truly strong welcome the opportunity to learn, to change, to grow stronger.  Not by digging in their heels and closing down to other views or others’ views.  The strong trust enough in their inner strength to be flexible, vulnerable and open to change.  And in so doing, their quiet strength triumphs.

Copyright © 2011 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

How to Get Him to Listen: A Primer

Ever get the sense the person you are talking to may hear you, but is not listening?

Want to be heard, really heard, before you lose your cool?

Before you begin

(by – and for – yourself):

  1. Determine clear, specific objective for the conversation.
  2. Have your facts available, preferably in bullet-point form.
  3. Note alternatives if your objectives are not met (end the conversation, rethink your assumptions, time-out to cool down, enlist others, etc.).
  4. Your goal: to reach similar conclusion, redefining the problem as a common problem to be solved together.  (Assume you are on the same team, simply with different information, points of view, which when shared lead to mutually satisfying conclusion.  Your job: to get you there).
  5. Take a breath, collect yourself.

During the conversation:

  1. State your (joint) objective.  Make sure you have buy-in from listener.
  2. Ask listener to explain his point of view while you listen without reacting.(Repeat what you hear:  ensures you understand his position – and that he knows you take him seriously, are listening).
  3. Ask if he’s done and will now listen to your point of view.
  4. Keep it short.
  5. Stick to the subject.Spell out (new) points of agreement, next steps.

Always Remember:

  1. Respect.
  2. Your tone of voice: patient explaining, interested listening, patient explaining. No attitude, yelling, condescension, bullying, insulting.
  3. Facts, not personalities.  Contingencies, not threats. Best outcome for all, not who’s right and who’s wrong.
  4. Breathe.  Remember your objective and goal.
  5. If he stops listening, you stop talking (and start listening until he’s ready to listen again).
Copyright © 2011 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

Putting it to the Test

Bomb threat.

On a wing and a ...

The plane was about to take off.  We had already begun taxiing down the runway, the instructions about face masks and seatbelts barely audible above the “where did you put my sandwich” and “you know you really do have to turn off your cellphone now!”  And then:  Bomb threat.

Well, actually, that’s not what he said.  It’s just what I thought.  My seatmates also.  And they hailed from a part of the world that’s been taking security measures seriously for a whole lot longer than the tsa’s been checking our shoes…

Calmly, he said, “Please exit the plane.  Take your belongings.  No, don’t.  Yes.  No.  We’ll put them back up for you.”

Lots of officers in uniform.  Not lots of information.  Lots of stress.  Lots of opportunity to practice all the nifty stress reduction and breathing tips I’ve been offering up all these years.

And here’s the thing:  they work.  Really.  They do.  And I gave ’em quite the workout…

Then again,  just might be I’m breathing easy now because it all ended with happily ever after.  At least for now…

Copyright © 2010 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

The Weight of the World On Your Shoulders

Again. Still. Always…

You have responsibilities: to your children, to your spouse, to your parents, to your partner, to your employees, to your banker…

to yourself…

It’s too much. But it doesn’t go away. Oh, sometimes it gets quieter, or lighter. And sometimes it feels heavier or your feet are stuck.  And sometimes you even stumble under the weight of it all.

But you can’t rid yourself of it, make it go away, put it down once and for all.

So what’s there to do?

Carry your burden more lightly… Breathe deep into your center, remember your purpose, remember you are not alone, remember it is what it is, and, most of all, remember what is real…What matters…

And remember that it all passes; it all turns into the next thing.  Faster than we ever imagined…

Copyright © 2010 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

How Many Therapists Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Only one.


That lightbulb

has to be oh so very serious

about wanting to change!

Then again, maybe who your therapist is really does matter, just a bit…

Copyright © 2010 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.