Tag Archives: Psychological Survival Skills

Dr. P’s Pithy Adages & Epigrams

Bridges:  Tips For Knowing How to Cross Over – and When to Let ’em Burn*

A hypothesis:  What is “obvious” seldom is.   “It’s obvious that she thinks________ ” usually means “I assume – and am now convinced – that she thinks_______.” More often than not, my conviction of the obvious truth is not true at all.  In fact, the stronger my conviction that something you feel or think “obviously” means whatever I am certain it means, the more it’s likely to tell you about me, rather than you. What do you think?  Does this ring true to you?

Here’s the thing:   Inertia isn’t going to get you anywhere you want to go.

The assumption: Everyone thinks the way you do. Or, if they don’t, they should.  Nope.  They don’t.

Nodding your head in agreement as you look someone in the eye, all the while waiting your turn to speak, is not the same thing as listening.  No matter how politely you smile, how patiently you point yourself in his direction.

It’s funny how people rewrite history, isn’t it?  And it’s generally to suit not only what they wish had happened, but who they wish they had been.

Few things in life take more courage than facing the truth about oneself.

If you don’t get your point across the first time, you can say it again, louder. If that doesn’t work, louder still.  Then louder, again.                                                     Or you can try another approach that might actually work…

Who are you when no one is looking?

Before you blow off a problem, make sure it won’t come ‘round and whack you in the back of the head when you least expect or can afford to deal with it.

You might as well forget the first clause of any sentence the second clause of which begins “, but…” 

For the person listening to you, suggesting “it’s just a little ______” doesn’t minimize the attendant issue, it minimizes him.  Not good.

You don’t get to decide someone else’s “no big deal.”

Your partner knows that your “I understand” sometimes really means “I’ve had enough.”

Haste may make waste, but beware of lingering too long at the fair…

It doesn’t cost extra to be kind.  And patience isn’t a waste of time.

Sometimes the only thing you know is what doesn’t work.  It’s a good idea then to try just about anything else…

Anything real and alive is flawed in some way.  Perfect is Disneyland: beautiful surface, but there’s no there there.

There’s power that derives from position.  There’s the power that derives from influence.  There’s power that derives from instilling fear.  There’s power that derives from controlling resources.  There’s power that derives from force.  There’s power that derives from expertise.  There’s power that derives from personality.  There’s power that derives from coalitions.  There’s power that derives from respect.  There’s power that derives from moral authority…

When you push down the bad feelings, lots of the good ones get pushed down, too.

If you have to tell someone “it’s obvious,” it isn’t.

Resolve it, don’t dissolve it.

You can be right or you can be a working team…

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

*~ Paro



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 Urgency of Now

rainbowHope for the future. Longing for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Good thing or bad thing? Depends. When we hope the next thing is the right and good thing, we often experience now as either a conduit or an impediment to that next thing. And in the process, we can miss the very parts of now that are already what we yearn for in the future.

Hoping and dreaming can be a marvelous distraction from the pain of the present. They can unleash a creativity that transforms today’s pain into tomorrow’s anticipated joy. “It will be different, better, I can create and live the reality I so want,” we tell ourselves. We envision living, having, doing what we want, and making up for what we don’t have in the present.

We can face what we need to do to change, and work toward that future. We realize it may manifest itself in somewhat different form in real life, and ready ourselves to take advantage of it when we see it. We can strengthen ourselves for challenges we cannot yet anticipate, but know exist. We can use hoping and dreaming to practice – right now – being the best version of who we want to be in the “what we want to be” to come.

But when we just go through the motions to get to the real event, we can feel angry about the motions we have to go through. Rather than undertaking them willingly because they connect us to something worth working for, we resent them, or wish them away. We are oftentimes impatient. We need the answer right now, the food ready right now, the train to arrive right now. We feel irritated that it’s taking too long; we cannot wait.

Sometimes, when we see another person as an obstacle to completing some task we need done in order to get on with things, we label them in the way, bothersome, or worse. Or we decide they are the cause of our pain. This impatience does not serve us well. Even if we do get that coffee now, we remain irritated long after we’ve finished drinking it. And even if the other person is an impediment, we transfer all our power to the very picture we don’t want, rather than framing the situation so it guides us toward the future we wish for.

Sometimes, we paint the wished-for picture all too vividly. We polish and perfect it, fantasizing too long and too well. Our fantasy life increasingly removes us from the present. Rather than facing our pain, we practice retreating from it by painting an ideal. No real life experience, no real person, could begin to live up to such fantasy.

But what if now can’t be reduced to either the conduit nor the impediment to the future we yearn for? The urgency of now is not to be confused with the present moment. Feeling stuck in now leaves us feeling demoralized, weakened, angry. Avoiding now steeps us in fantasy, taking us away from living fully. Hiding in now allows us to ignore our responsibility in making life the way we want it to be. Fighting now keeps us from seeing how to convert now into the future we long for.

To convert today’s unwanted “now” into a real “now” in the real future, we must accept and live in this very moment. Only by living in the present moment, framed by our dream of a realized better future, can we infuse the present with our dream, and transform our hopes into reality.

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, TOUCHING PEACE

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.


stopIs it just me, or does it seem that everything is revving faster and faster by the day? I know that as we age, even baby boomers don’t move or think as fast as we once did. But I am starting to think it’s more than my just getting older and slower and crankier. It seems to me that the number of emails and texts and twitter alerts keep increasing exponentially. That the computer or handheld or cellphone – or all of them – seem to be on all the time, in every room, no matter what other activity’s the main event.

Witness: Despite a sign in my waiting room, and the expensive and rare luxury of an hour devoted exclusively to them, more and more patients “have to” leave their phones on during session: the kid might call, the market might fall, can’t miss anything at all.

Witness: Even people who a year ago vowed never to be “one of them” now text (they’ve been talking on the cell phones they vowed never to get for some time now) while crossing 96th and Madison. Or Times Square. Like your Aunt Harriet, model of decorum and good sense. Or your chill yoga instructor.

Witness: Despite tragic reports of car and subway and train crashes, drivers still convince themselves that, as long as they’re talking hands-free, they can pay sufficient attention to three things at once: the road, their phone conversation, and whatever else is going on in the car.

Witness: Despite numerous research studies that show multitasking is in fact less efficient than focusing on one thing at a time, we cling to the fantasy that we can somehow squeeze more into our day if we do two, three, even four things at once. That continually shifting gears, or paying attention to multiple things at once, helps us learn, when it fact it hinders learning. (How much do you miss about your dinner companion when your eyes are scanning every cute girl walking by?).

And it’s not just about the limit to what we can assimilate, or the eye strain from staring at the screens, or missing the eye contact you only get when you are only talking with the person with whom you are talking. No, what’s also bothering me is the sinking feeling that we’re all working for our technology, rather than the other way around. Everyone else does it, so we have to, too, to keep up. But there’s just too much to absorb before we’re saturated. And unfortunately, there’s still more and more to absorb.

I don’t know about you, but I need a rest. I want a rest. It’s summer, and I want time to just do nothing and stare at some clouds, wonder if they look like trees or if they’re cumulous or not…I want to enter into a conversation with no goal or agenda in mind, and no “excuse me’s” for the Blackberry calling, or a bevy of Iphones to the right of the soup spoons…

I want unplanned and unpaced time. I’m even starting to get nostalgic for the old days around the family dinner table before answering machines and cell phones and computers and more (well, not the quarreling part, or the “eat your dinner because of the starving children in ___ part). When the phone rang, there were glances around the table to see that everyone was accounted for, and some adult said something like, “Let it ring. We’re all here, having dinner. Whoever it is, if it’s important, they’ll call back.”

To do what you are doing when you are doing it… to only do what you are doing, fully and completely, trusting that, if important, they’ll call back again. That’s the break that refreshes, when the noise and the busyness stop…Now that’s today’s ultimate luxury: being in the moment, with no beeps or ringtones to interrupt quiet time, a quiet mind.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

On Blowing Bubbles in the Real World

bubble_colorful_colors_221291_l1You can’t walk into a job interview in your suit while blowing those drippy summertime bubbles that come in a hot green plastic container. You can’t give your elevator speech to the new networking contact with a qualified, live lead while sitting on a bench in Central Park blowing bubbles.

Or can you? Should you? (You can see where this is going…)

You need breaks from real life: to play, to float above the problems, to not deal. And you need breaks from taking breaks: to get up off the sofa and write that document, make that tough phone call, run the numbers. Most of the time, you oscillate between the two. It’s easier that way. Work while you’re working, play while you’re playing. No distractions, in control, not too sloppy.

But what would happen, how would life feel, if you infused the two? If you didn’t wait for Saturday night to have “time off” or wait until Sunday night to “plan the week?”

What would happen if – just for a moment, here and there – you dealt with the hard realities with a smile on your face and a bubble wand in your hand? Well, for one thing, you’d notice who thought you were nuts and avoided you (though arguably in New York that takes an awful lot), and who smiled along with you, maybe even wanted a go at the wand.

To make the largest bubble you can before the thin film breaks, you have to breathe easy, deliberately and deeply. You slow down, you focus, you let go (For a moment. You can easily get it back, all that tension, if you need it). With conscious awareness, you take a breath and focus gently on the ephemeral here and now. You know all too well the bubble’s going to burst. They always do. That’s part of the challenge, the pull, maybe even the fun. You try yet again: for a bigger bubble, a bunch of tiny bubbles, two intersecting bubbles. Or a laugh, a smile, even. Just to yourself. Or, maybe even better, a shared glance with a kindred spirit.

It only takes a conscious moment. Just a few moments can make a big difference helping you get through these tough recession days, shifting perspective, giving you a much needed and appreciated breather. So that when you return to the challenges of your daily life, you do so refreshed, energized, feeling less frantic and more positive. By creating a sort of resiliency reservoir, the same daunting challenges don’t feel the same.

It’s easy to lose the smile when the demands of daily life crank up. And they seem to more and more these days. Financial woes, 24/7 email and cell phone and internet, the markets open somewhere pretty much all the time – all of them demanding your attention. And someone else nipping at your heels – evaluating you at your job, dumping their job on you, lying in wait for your job. Seems as if there’s never enough time or bandwith. No wonder you get edgy, short-tempered, exhausted.

Who’s got the time or energy for anything besides accomplishing something or vegging out in front of the tv? Who’s got time to be conscious and focused on the little joys? Maybe you do, just for a moment. In fact, just imagining it might almost do the trick.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

On Seduction, Trust and Other Homilies

SEDUCE– verb
Persuade to do the inadvisable; lure away from duty, principle or right behavior
Entice into sexual activity; induce to have sex

An act of winning the love or sexual favor of someone; conquest
Enticing someone astray from right behavior

— ORIGIN Latin seducere ‘lead aside or away’

“Seduction is often difficult to distinguish from rape. In seduction, the rapist bothers to buy a bottle of wine.”
Andrea Dworkin: Letters from a War Zone (1988)

Seduction is easy. All it takes is charm, magnetism, a connection to your own sexuality, knowing your subject, an act of will – and focusing the laser beam until you fry your prey… Easy. It’s a challenge, a one-time contest in which the person with more time and intensity and dedication and single-mindedness and willingness to do whatever it takes to win wins. And then it all stops, falls apart, from lack of attention. It’s no contest at all… Easy.

But keeping it up, that’s difficult (and oh so much rarer and truer). In the light of day, over the long haul, 24/7, after the initial buzz has worn off and the orgasm’s over (because they always end, no matter how many you might have in a row) it becomes crystal clear: seduction is the wooing and winning, but it cannot hold a candle to the loving and staying. Scrape a bit, and you see that seduction is all shiny surface, a coat or two of temporary lacquer. But loving runs right down to the roots, spreading deep below the ground.

Seduction is easy. Love, on the other hand, is simple.

Love’s not about the getting and having, it’s about the “getting” and giving, caring and sharing, trusting and knowing and being known. It doesn’t have an end game, or concern itself with what’s fair or whose turn it is. It’s not about artifice, it’s about real. And that’s not easy; it’s just so very simple.

What could be more tempting than beyond temptation? There’s really no contest at all.

Are you loving – or seducing? Are you being loved – or seduced?
In these tough economic times, it’s all the more important to know the difference. Because at the end the day, it’s great to come in out of the cold, cruel world of work – or looking for work – let down your guard, and count on feeling known, cared for and safe. It’s awfully good to be able to trust someone, especially the someone you’re supposed to be able to trust.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.


straphangers1You know how, when the subway lurches suddenly, there is always that one person standing who doesn’t lose his balance at all? The one who manages to keep reading his paper, calm and steady on his feet, smiling and making room for you when you almost bash into him? How does he do it?

He plants one foot firmly, maintaining his own immovable center, regardless of whatever lurches and short stops the subway always surprises us with when we least expect. And he lets his center of gravity shift as his other foot moves with the movement of the train: leaning out, pulling back, gliding and adjusting as necessary.

In his fascinating new book, THE AGE OF THE UNTHINKABLE, Joshua Cooper Ramo exhorts leaders and policy makers in today’s complex and interconnected world to regard adaptation to change as a constant if unpredictable given, and to view problems in a larger, interrelated context. Since change in the world financial markets and political systems no longer (if it ever did) occurs in linear fashion, it’s seldom obvious exactly which one particular detail will tip the balance. How best to adapt and thrive? We need to hold our center (he talks about the need to build resilient societies with strong immune systems, like health care and education), while “riding the earthquake” (remaining open to creative approaches to the predictably unpredictable).

But as crucial as it is to adjust and re-adjust, you don’t want to be constantly in motion, changing your perspective so often that you lose sight of what your perspective really is. And as necessary to survival as it is in our interconnected globalized world to put yourself in the other guy’s shoes, you don’t want to get stuck there, walking his mile, do you?

So while you’re busy adapting and adjusting, make certain you also check that the center – your center – holds. Because if it doesn’t, you are going to bash into some guy on the subway. And you can’t be sure the guy you bash into will be one who’ll help you regain your balance.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.