Feb 17

“Tell Me More”: 12 Hardest Things to Say

One of the most popular nonfiction books a couple years ago was Kelly Corrigan‘s Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say. “It’s a crazy idea: trying to name the phrases that make love and connection possible. But that’s just what Kelly Corrigan has set out to do here,” states her publisher.

I’ve compiled a list of Corrigan’s 12 things, which are also the titles of her chapters. Featured as well are snippets of what they’re about.

It’s Like This.

About having a full life as well as about the grief process: “…It’s like this. Minds don’t rest; they reel and wander and fixate and roll back and reconsider because it’s like this, having a mind. Hearts don’t idle; they swell and constrict and break and forgive and behold because it’s like this, having a heart. Lives don’t last; they thrill and confound and circle and overflow and disappear because it’s like this, having a life.”

Tell Me More.

How to listen better, how not to cut in with self-serving talk and opinions. Helps people feel heard and valued. “Makes you wonder what else people might tell you if you just keep asking questions.”

I Don’t Know.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in our lives. It’s okay to make peace with this. “I try to be one of the exceptional people who can live with the complexity of things, who are at peace with the unknown and the unknowable, who leave all the cages open. I tell myself: There’s so much that you don’t know, you can’t know, you aren’t ever going to know.”

I Know.

Connecting through showing understanding.


Setting boundaries doesn’t always make you well-liked, but it does make you better at self-care. “One friend told me her one big takeaway from three years and $11,000 of therapy was Learn to say no. And when you do, don’t complain and don’t explain. Every excuse you make is like an invitation to ask you again in a different way.”


Things the author will always say yes to.

I was wrong.

Kirkus Reviews: “…(T)he funniest entry in the collection…highlight(s) the power and near-impossible difficulty of admitting personal fault.” And apologizing meaningfully: “According to my mother, the cornerstone of a proper apology is taking responsibility, and the capstone is naming the transgression. Contrition must be felt and conveyed. Finally, apologies are better served plain, hold the rationalizations. In other words, I’m sorry should be followed by a pause or period, not by but and never by you.”

Good Enough.

Realizing you can’t be perfect. No one is.

I love you.

I love you.
The first time the words pass between two people: electrifying.
Ten thousand times later: cause for marvel.
The last time: the dream you revisit over and over and over again.

No words at all.

“Despair defies description…the reach of language can be laughable.”


The following is from the closing of a letter Corrigan writes to Liz, her very close friend who’s died: “He and the kids are moving onward, not away from you but with you…You are everywhere they are. I love you through them.”

This is it.

Appreciate what life is, as in having a family.

The abstract performance art called Family Life is our one run at the ultimate improv. Our chance to be great for someone, to give another person enough of what they need to be happy. Ours to overlook or lost track of our bemoan, ours to recommit to, to apologize for, to try again for. Ours to watch disappear into their next self–toddler, to tyke, tween to teen–ours to drop off somewhere and miss forever.

Jun 04

“Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson

For about two years in the late 1990’s prolific author Richard Carlson‘s (1961-2006) self-help book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff...and It’s All Small Stuff–Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life was at the top of the bestsellers list.

Some of the best quotes from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff:

There are two rules for living in harmony. #1) Don’t sweat the small stuff and #2) It’s all small.

True happiness comes not when we get rid of all of our problems, but when we change our relationship to them, when we see our problems as a potential source of awakening, opportunities to practice, and to learn.

Being heard and understood is “one of the greatest desires of the human heart.”

Effective listening is more than simply avoiding the bad habit of interrupting others while they are speaking or finishing their sentences. It’s being content to listen to the entire thought of someone rather than waiting impatiently for your chance to respond.

To a large degree, the measure of our peace of mind is determined by how much we are able to live in the present moment. Irrespective of what happened yesterday or last year, and what may or may not happen tomorrow, the present moment is where you are—always!

Something wonderful begins to happen with the simple realization that life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around. As you focus more on becoming more peaceful with where you are, rather than focusing on where you would rather be, you begin to find peace right now, in the present.

A low mood is not the time to analyze your life. To do so is emotional suicide. If you have a legitimate problem, it will still be there when your state of mind improves. The trick is to be grateful for our good moods and graceful in our low moods—not taking them too seriously. The next time you feel low, for whatever reason, remind yourself, “This too shall pass.” It will.

Even though we often mess up, most of us are doing the best that we know how with the circumstances that surround us.

The need for perfection and the desire for inner tranquility conflict with each other.

I guess it´s safe to say that practice makes perfect. It makes sense, then, to be careful what you practice.

Imagining yourself at your own funeral allows you to look back at your life while you still have the chance to make some important changes.

Jan 15

“Performance Addiction” Involves Perfectionism

Performance addiction: the belief that perfecting appearance and achieving status will secure the love and respect of others. Psychologist Arthur P. Ciaramicoli

Arthur P. Ciaramicoli‘s book Performance Addiction: The Dangerous New Syndrome and How to Stop It from Ruining Your Life (2004), although not brand new, does speak to a common issue in today’s society.

He calls performance addiction “an irrational belief system learned from early familial experiences and reinforced by our material and appearance driven society…These individuals are what I call scoreboard watchers. They are constantly evaluating how well they sound, look and appear.”

According to Ciaramicoli, performance addicts are actually different from other types of overachievers, though. He has explained that someone with Type A personality, for example, can still have balance; and someone who’s a perfectionist focuses more on what he or she is doing than on a specific type of outcome (as is desired by a performance addict).

It’s all about to-do lists and busyness for the performance addict. Also, difficulty with the following: listening, slowing down, sleeping, having unstructured time, and using healthy self-care, e.g., diet and exercise.

Naturally, then, Ciaramicoli’s advice emphasizes therapeutic work to change these deficits. Some things he says to address:

  • Learn how to listen. Develop your capacity for empathy.
  • Slow yourself down. Try always to be in the moment.
  • Make self-care a priority. Regularly take the time to exercise and eat a nutritious meal.
  • Give your children your love, not your anxiety. Children who have parents with performance addiction may develop it, too.
  • Stop criticizing the people around you. Performance addicts are always looking for ways to improve themselves, their spouse, and their family. Stop doing that and start creating intimacy through uncritical affection.
  • Develop realistic attitudes about your appearance and your financial status. Reign in your lofty expectations and create goals that can be reached.
  • Allow yourself to make mistakes without feeling that you are a mistake. Tell yourself that failure to drive a certain car or live in a certain house does not mean you are a failure.

A more recent follow-up to Performance Addiction is Ciaramicoli’s The Curse of the Capable: The Hidden Challenges to a Balanced, Healthy, High-Achieving Life, co-authored by John Allen Mollenhauer. It further develops his ideas and “describes how a biased view of yourself can lead to a fragile sense of self, addictive thinking and behavior, and a seemingly mysterious downward spiral that the majority of people can’t see or untangle.”

Nov 07

“Whiplash”: Teacher’s Abusive Style, Student’s Perfectionism

I’ve seen the trailer for Damien Chazelle‘s highly acclaimed Whiplash, starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, several times in the theater. Although I’ve decided it’s probably not for me, a review of the reviews is still in order.


Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: “Fear. Passion. Blood. Sweat. Tears. Pounding through the beat of a drum. Screaming in the crash of the cymbals. Fast, furious, raging perfection in bleeding hands, broken sticks, broken relationships, broken lives. Debris surrounding transcendent greatness. Ecstasy within the agony.”

Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com, explains the plot basics:

A young man named Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is practicing late at night at his New York music school, one of the best in the country, when his drumming catches the ear of the infamous Mr. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the most important teacher at the school and the conductor for its most important jazz band. Fletcher pauses, listens, barks a few orders at the young man, and moves on, seemingly dissatisfied with what he heard. Andrew had his chance, that one brief moment many of us have to impress the people who can change our lives, and he didn’t cut it. He goes back to his routine class band, telling his dad (a wonderfully genuine Paul Reiser) that his opportunity to move up probably passed him by.


David Edelstein, Vulture: “The title Whiplash is dead-on. That’s what it is; that’s what it gives you.”


Before you watch, a warning: a strong aspect of Whiplash is Fletcher’s intense verbal, emotional, and physical abuse of Andrew, purportedly to coax excellence out of him.


Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com: “How far are you willing to push yourself to succeed? How far are you willing to push someone else to force them on the path to success?”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “The question is: how much should one talented but sensitive individual be willing to suffer for his art at the hands of one brilliant but terrifying bully?”

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: “The question Chazelle poses is whether psychological pain is the price of greatness. Does it take emotional scarring and physical extremes to push the talented to reach extraordinary heights?”


David Edelstein, Vulture:

[Fletcher’s] behavior is monstrous, but the question hangs: Does Andrew at this point need a ‘bad’ father? Andrew’s real dad (Paul Reiser) is a soft, mild presence, a man who watches black-and-white movies and sprinkles Raisinets on his popcorn. He loves Andrew unconditionally—which is just what we want from a parent, right? The absence of such unconditional love fuels billions of hours of therapy and is the root of a thousand unreadable memoirs. But to go to the next level, does an artist need to fear being shamed?


Tomas Hachard, NPR: “What Chazelle stresses about Andrew is his obsessiveness. And what he really nails about obsession, about those people who work tirelessly at a specific goal, is that their struggle is not about achieving success rather than failure. It’s about demonstrating genius rather than mere talent.”


Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com: “Simmons perfectly captures the drive of a man who believes his abusive degree of pressure is the only way to produce a diamond.”


Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: “The story arc is too predictable, the near-complete absence of women a bit disconcerting. The movie skitters towards its audacious premise — endorsing misery as creative motivation — without having the nerve to commit fully.”

Peter Debruge, Variety: “…ultimately about a rivalry not between Andrew and his instructor, but between the promising teenage drummer and himself.”

Richard Corliss, Time: “… Chazelle provides a potent metaphor for artistic ambition as both a religion and an addiction. You go through Hell to reach your goal, and maybe Hell was the best, most intense part of the process.”

Aug 06

“The Confidence Code”: Kay and Shipman Advise Working Women

It’s more important to success than competence (yes, really) and people who have it are happier, healthier and more fulfilled. Most important, it’s a choice you can make. We can all build more confidence, you just need the code. Katty Kay, co-author of The Confidence Code

The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance–What Women Should Knowby Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, direct their 2014 book mainly to working women.

As stated on their blog, the authors learned that confidence is not “about throwing your weight around or talking over people or always being the first to jump in. Confidence isn’t an attitude at all. You know that old expression about something being all in your head? Well, when it comes to confidence the opposite is true. Confidence is about the actions you take not the postures you strike.”


A few things Kay and Shipman learned from their research, as reported by Jessica Bennett, Time:

  • When a professional endeavor goes wrong, women are more likely to blame themselves. Yet when something goes right, they credit circumstance – or other people – for their success. (Men do the opposite.)
  • Women are more likely than men to be perfectionists, holding themselves back from answering a question, applying for a new job, asking for a raise, until they’re absolutely 100 percent sure we can predict the outcome. (Women applied for a promotion only when they met 100 percent of the qualifications. Men applied when they met 50 percent.)
  • Women are a quarter as likely as men to negotiate a raise. We doubt our opinions and begin our sentences with “I don’t know if this is right, but—.” We are more prone to “rumination” than men – which causes us to overthink and overanalyze. (Sound familiar?)

Why is this the case? Is it nature? Nurture? Interestingly, some of the male-female differences that matter aren’t about socialization. Joann Weiner, Washington Post, notes the role of a particular hormone, for example, in quoting Kay: “Basically testosterone, which obviously men have more of, gives you a higher tolerance for risk. Studies show that traders make riskier bets on days they have more testosterone in their bodies. Risk is a key factor in confidence — you have to take risks and be prepared to fail to expand your confidence.”

There are also genetic contributions, not one specific confidence gene but some that affect one’s level of confidence.


The authors describe NATS (negative automatic thoughts) that are believed to affect women in particular.

Their formula is “Three positive thoughts to one negative thought.” For each automatic negative thought, think of three positive things you did—and practice this regularly. “This exercise does work because it puts the minor failure in perspective.”

Because of the brain’s plasticity, even we older women can change the way our brains work.

Kay offers further advice on risk-taking. As told to Kerry Hannon, Forbes: “Go to the thing that is just a little bit hard, the unknown thing, the thing you have always found a little bit scary. Go for that job you always found a little bit difficult, run for PTA president, go to a party by yourself, stand up in speak in public when you haven’t done it before.”

Hannon lists her own favorite “microtips” from The Confidence Code:

1. Meditate. A calm brain is the ultimate confidence tool. It gives you an increased ability to control your emotions and be clear and calm about your goals.
2. Think small. Battle any feelings of being overwhelmed by breaking things down. Teasing out the individual parts of a challenge, and accomplishing even one-tenth of it, can give you a confidence boost…