Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Following a trip to a North American city, a native New Orleanian and old friend commented that the people in that other city which will not be named here just didn’t get it.  He added that there was no Lagniappe there.  Lagniappe being a French-Creole word denoting something extra typically provided by a merchant upon request so as to aid positive mutual recognition within a transaction, thereby increasing the pro-social aspects of business. Mark Twain called Lagniappe, "a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get."

The significance of the word itself continues to be felt within contemporary New Orleans culture as evidenced by the local newspaper’s weekly entertainment guide being called Lagniappe.  This is to say that the word enjoys a reference point beyond mercantile transactions within contemporary culture, as it also points to general cultural heritage and entertainment. Some have referred to it as “a mini philosophy that reminds us to give just a bit more in our lives, relationships, and joie de vivre!”

A philosophical position that supports giving as important is especially timely now that increasing privatization and depressed economics appear to be the norm.  Simply, when Peggy Noonan takes time away from economics to focus on psychological factors within the Wall Street Journal, we should all be paying attention.  She writes of having “long thought that public dissatisfaction is about more than the economy, that it's also about our culture,” and in that same article she refers to the culture of the United States as flat and brut.  Noonan considers living in a flat and brut culture that has no Lagniappe (no, sadly she does not use the word) to have led to a crisis of character.
As a psychologist I know a bit about character and crisis, and want to take some time to discuss it as it happens to be mental health month Present a monkey with an unwelcoming situation and it wants to find a receptive tactile place to feel held.  Furthermore, if the environment is flat and brut as Noonan describes – that is unrewarding and experienced as impossible, one may begin to stop the active search for an experience of security.  Some call this learned helplessness, and it is considered to be a behavioral model of depression. Its counterpart of course, is resiliency, which requires some sense of faith.  Within the urban landscape, the loss of assertive engagement due to a displacement of faith has been documented.  One oft cited example is the by-stander effect (Click here to read of Amy Winehouse’s death as an example of this).  The effect is so named as by-standers rationalize a lack of engagement via the faith based assumption that someone else will respond to a crisis. 

Noonan is responding to a level of apathy and cynicism that goes beyond the by-stander effect as she describes a perversion of selfishness in which some appear to have no concern that someone else will respond.  To the extent that her concern is warranted, we might say that our collective character has become severely depressed.  The smart-phone using isolationist bubble she describes sounds much like what Sigmund Freud considered a hallmark of severe depression – the shadow of the ego falls upon itself.  That is to say, social or interpersonal activity is lost to fetishistic or severely limited engagement.  We may question if this is due to a loss of viewing anyone else as being fully human, a failure to recognize suffering, or a cynical combination of these factors leading to a failure to experience empathy or compassion.  This would then be considered a narcissistic or self-occupied depression.

In her latest book Alone Together, Sherry Turkle follows Hannah Arendt’s concern that we may not be able to benefit from our technological advances due to our culture’s repudiation of creativity and social engagement over technical know how.  Without a creative society there is little room to value engagement with difference much less recognize human cultural interaction as valuable in its own right.  The illusion that being alone without community is O.K. is different than being  able to work with feeling alone or lonely while also being connected to a community.

About one week ago , Arlie Hochschild also expressed concern regarding our national character in the New York Times – From her Sociologist perspective she makes an argument of lost autonomy due to a chronic desensitization to one's feelings resulting from a perceived need to present a false social self.  This dovetails with Noonan’s concern that we don’t take enough personal responsibility – that like a passive by-stander we settle for being told that someone else will take care of it - us - as opposed to risking creative self expression and responsibility.

Unfortunately Hochschild also suggests that psychotherapy trades in securing such an inauthentic self  as opposed to working to foster autonomy and resilency within the clinical encounter.  Her generalization is unfortunate as it misses that psychotherapy is complex and that there is variance among practitioners (by discipline and skill) in addition to there being difference among patients. Her argument arises I think due to an old problem within the social sciences.  Namely, pointing out that individual differences exist within groups of people complicates matters.  Hochschild does little to support the idea that folks attend psychotherapy for a variety of reasons; much less that treatment could help to benefit a productive and engaged society.  Despite those short comings, I am pleased that she is addressing social isolation, market penetration into emotional life, and the difficulty of creative thought.  As a provider of psychotherapy, I know as many studies show – it works and often requires time.  Further, there are many reasons (dignity for one) that it occurs outside of the public square.

It seems to me however, that when psychotherapy goes well, that it does have a positive impact on life beyond the consulting room.  Disclaimer: Lagniappe here is implicit that is to say subjective.  A test to examine what is happening in a particular therapy relationship at a particular moment in therapy:   Is it an end in itself (if so why?) or does the therapy relationship have other aims in regard to how one finds meaning and engagement in general (that is past, present, and future).  To consider a particular therapy an end in itself would be to suggest that intensive critical care is needed for an individual or to trade in the crisis of character (loss of individual responsibility) that Hochschild and Noonan lament.  Fortunately, I don’t know any professionals that would consider maintaining much less fostering isolation and dependency as opposed to facilitating growth to be good treatment.  Closer to the mark is a recent Huffington Post entry by another provider of psychotherapy -  Robert Stolorow.  There he defines character as “the array of a person's pre-reflective organizing principles and the corresponding horizons of emotional experiencing,” and considers that psychotherapy can alter these organizing principles – in part by helping one to become aware – that is reflective in regard to their own organizing principles so that increasing freedom and maturity may be found. 

So, if you are shopping for a psychotherapist consider asking if the  practitioner you are meeting with believes that living in a democracy comprised of thriving communities populated and maintained by diverse and motivated individuals is a sign of mental health.   By extension, should one’s desire and ability or lack thereof to engage or seek out such connected activity be part of the focus of treatment?

Recently, mindfulness has is enjoying a second look as an explicit companion to the psychotherapy journey. I say a second look as Freud’s conception of associating to what had been disassociated may be viewed as a mindful practice in its own right.  However, the focus is somewhat different within the mindfulness practice that typifies Zen.  One element that stands out in Eastern practice is an understanding that autonomy and dependency may co-exist in an integrated as opposed to hostile fashion. Related to this is cultivating compassion in the face of suffering.  For that to happen one has to be able to recognize suffering. This is often difficult, and is according to Noonan possibly harder outside of the consulting room or meditation hall due to the absence of a helpful other to initiate a different way of seeing.

A UC Berkeley study found that individuals in the upper middle and upper classes were less able to detect and respond to the distress signals of others, and one of the studies authors suggests that due to a lack of difficulty among the affluent that there may be a subsequent lack of implicit sensitization to signals of suffering.  The idea of sensitization is important, and here that means a conscious awareness that someone might require help - that is that they are alone and that they are not OK being alone and that the observer of such suffering is in a position to respond with compassion.  So, in addition to the recognition of suffering compassion requires conscious autonomy, a feeling of connection, and a faith or hope  in a capacity to provided soothing care.  

Mindfulness practice is about explicitly working to become aware of what is happening in the present moment.  To that end, the musician Jay Z’s lyrics have been recognized as sounding, well, Eastern.  He sings of connecting to the moment, now, and moving forward.  Moving forward fosters connection when engaging suffering mindfully.  That is having an open heart and mind, and eventually by applying the discipline of looking deeply at whatever is happening with the tools that may be developed in meditation and/or psychotherapy - a willingness to working with if not through stuck points.  Otherwise, we maintain a crisis of character.

As a new version of the psychiatric diagnostic guide is presently under construction, maybe we should consider a new disease syndrome within psychiatry: Lagniappe Deficit Disorder.  Signs and symptoms of LDD would entail – averting eye contact, not smiling, and a general sense that community is irrelevant occurring more days than not for at least two weeks.  This would of course be found to commonly co-occur with anxiety and depression.  We might debate at what age an individual could reliably be diagnosed with this syndrome and if such a disorder could occur in childhood.  Treatment could be pharmacologically based, but would hopefully entail making contact and cultivating compassion through giving a little something extra.  Maybe the only thing wrong headed about that is the suggestion that Lagniappe is extra – my stance here is that extra is not extra, that it is essential.  It might also be considered that such work may be found at the smallest level, but that in order to rehabilitate the culture at large we simultaneously consider what large scale democratic and compassionate change might look like.  I for one want to live in a version of the United States that Mark Twain would appreciate and want to occupy. 
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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Little big woman

To learn that Elisabeth Young-Bruehl has died this month is quite sad. Wikipedia seems to be aware of this before even the New York Times is able to publish an obituary. She will most certainly be remembered as a scholar who was recognized for great work during her lifetime. I am certain that she will also be remembered by many as a loving and caring person. I only meet her once, and the meeting was brief. Sitting with the memory of that meeting affords a meditation on the power of little moments.

While in grad school, I had walked up to the New York Psychoanalytic Institute to hear her give a talk on the relevance of early childhood dyadic relations. Afterwards, I approached her with my dissertation chair's copy of her then recent book: The Anatomy of Prejudices. I asked her to sign the dust jacket under her photograph knowing that when I returned the book to its owner the autograph would serve to initiate a good and challenging conversation regarding the relationships between social psychology and psychoanalysis on the matter of prejudice. I said something to this effect to Young-Bruehl who after signing the book, proceeded to pinch my cheek while saying, "Keep the faith kid."

Walking back to the subway in my pinched cheek reverie, I noticed that I was enjoying a Brady Bunch memory. My memory was of a well known episode that is centered around Marsha's exclamation that she will never again wash her cheek due to the fact that Davy Jones has planted a kiss on her cheek. To identify with Marsha said something regarding the potency of Young-Bruehl's pinch. As my face has since been washed countless times, the memory continues to open my heart with the joy that is love.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Everyday Child

Work as a psychotherapist affords encounters with challenging questions often spoken in moments of great difficulty. Among those difficult moments is a questioning patient speaking as a parent who is concerned as to how to go about situating some present difficulty with their child or children. The work of psychotherapy itself often helps such a patient situate a problem in a manner that provides some relief, and relief itself is essential as it creates an opening for this parent to explore a difficulty with their child. To the extent that such an opening is not present, nothing else can happen. The question regarding how to engage one’s kid is often asked once the work of therapy has created the possibility of such engagement.

One common response to the question of how to mindfully engage is to suggest that the parent utilize a children’s story as a bridge to open up discussion between a parent and child. Judging by the children’s publishing industry, this is a rather common response. There are books on the market that attempt to situate everything from divorce to pediatric cancer. I’ve purchased, read, and recommended a few to various patients. While some books are a delight to recommend, others have felt problematic at best, and dangerous at worst in that the very problem to be explored is – unintentionally I think - denied or mystified. So, given the variance found in the marketplace, I welcome the discovery of a series of books that are indeed helpful and well designed.

Barbara Esham requested that I address her work from the perspective of a clinical psychologist in private practice. I met her on Twitter, and she sent me her series The adventures of everyday geniuses to read. Here Esham’s writing is joined by the lively illustrations of the father and son team, Mike and Carl Gordon. These four books have already been endorsed by several academics. In addition to praise from research scientists, the series received a Parent’s Choice Award in 2008. Esham wants to add voices of practitioners, those of us in the trenches. She believes in her work, and I’m happy to say that her belief is warranted. Reviewer disclaimer: Despite claims that millions can be made on Twitter, no monies or services where exchanged in solicitation of this review. Given that she is writing children’s books, and that one of my last publications is a psychoanalytic reading of Finding Nemo, I am happy to say yes. Evidently, I have a weakness for children’s stories and writing reviews.

The books address learning differences, perfectionism/anxiety, difficulties with sustained attention, and dyslexia. Each of these books has in common a strong but not overbearing conveyance of security. That is to say, Esham does a masterful job of situating acceptance and ease in terrain that is often edgy and fraught. Central to this is something we like to call self-esteem. Her characters have this. In each book people get jostled. When the elementary school age children who serve as her protagonists lose faith, they are fortunate in that those around them have the self-esteem to foster repair. Feelings such as doubt, anxiety, frustration, and anger are contained and processed in a fashion that brings these characters closer to themselves and those around them. In each book, Esham reminds us that without the self-esteem to accept and situate pain and loss, nothing else can happen.

I began to first consider the topic of self-esteem in regard to these books while reading Stacey Coolidge’s Fancy-Smancy Cursive Handwriting. Second grader Carolyn is frustrated because Stacey Coolidge not only has wonderful handwriting that appears to be effortlessly produced, but Stacey finishes her work early and gets to feed the class Guinea Pig. Carolyn wants to feed the Guinea Pig very much, and her handwriting is standing in the way. Worn, torn paper, and smudges take over Carolyn’s world. Despite practice, her work is the 'worst in the class.' Carolyn is the kid who has come in last. She wonders if anyone knows that she is working hard. As weeks go by, Carolyn is fortunate in that her teacher one day asks why she looks sad. Not only does this teacher listen, but she also explains that writing is only a tool for expression, and that many talented and famous writers had horrible handwriting. In this moment, Carolyn recognizes that her teacher not only knows that she is working hard, but also knows that she has a great imagination. Could life get any better? Carolyn is then told that the reason her teacher wanted to speak with her is to ask if she would take the Guinea Pig home for the weekend.

In our achievement-based world, we are fortunate to find that Carolyn is not the only character struggling with timely completion. As with the Scholastic Aptitude Test, Esham provides a focus on verbal and mathematical expression. In Last to finish: A story about the smartest boy in math class Max assumes math would be easy for him. His dad is an engineer after all. Yet, he begins to have some problems in third grade when he encounters timed math tests. With a hyper focus on the timer, Max loses any capacity to think about math. Not only does he come in last, his classmates begin to tease him. His principal and teacher request a meeting with Max and his parents. Max takes the news of a meeting as though he is a prisoner that has been told to present to a courtroom for sentencing. Fortunately for Max, his principal has not only found, but also read Max’s math folder that had been lost in the school hallway. There he finds that Max has been successfully playing with his older brother’s algebra book. A discussion of the distinction between memorizing and thinking follows that ends with Max agreeing to join the school math team, if there is no timer.

The plot lines of great teachers who engage a math wiz who has trouble on timed tests, and a great story teller who has difficulty learning to write script reminded me of Leo Buscagila’s work on loving and learning. Buscaglia was a champion of the idea that not all children or people for that matter have the same strengths and weaknesses. This is good, as we need people to do different things in our society. Using an animal metaphor, Buscagila pointed out that elementary education often misses this point and asks a squirrel to fly like a bird and a bird to climb like a squirrel. Injuries result. Esham’s books illustrate how injuries can be avoided to the benefit of our society as a whole. Although we have yet to sufficiently implement this knowledge in elementary education, like Buscaglia, Esham provides an illustration of where we need to go.

Squirrels and birds are fortunate in that when a squirrel climbs, it climbs and when a bird flies, it flies. Human beings on the other hand are capable of thinking about climbing while flying. This can be an asset, and also a liability. As our consciousness may be used to constructive or destructive ends, training the monkey mind is important. For some, training appears to be essential. This is the case with David, who with an active mind is distracting his classmates with the experiments he conducts during class. A letter from teacher to parent leads to a conversation between parents that David overhears. There, David learns that his father has a name for the condition David suffers from: The Wiggle Fidgets. In Mrs. Gorski, I think I have the Wiggle Fidgets, David creates a box of cures to share with his parents and teacher in their upcoming meeting. David’s solutions are popular behavior strategies used in the treatment of what in Psychiatry is called Attention Deficit Disorder. For a child reader, to find that a kid created these strategies will in most cases be an asset. Esham chooses to focus only on behavioral interventions, and this is a strength of the book. As Katherine Ellison has shown in her book Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention, there is no cure-all for attentional problems be they called Wiggle Fidgets or a deficit disorder. We do know that interventions help, and whether or not a diagnosed child is receiving neurofeedback, medication, or neither – behavioral strategies that may be utilized in the classroom are essential for success in school.

In addition to the Wiggle Fidgets, Dyslexia is another condition that is often diagnosed in childhood. I read If You’re so smart, how come you can’t spell Mississippi? and the other three books with my eight-year-old son. Like the book’s protagonist Katie, my son is also coming to terms with the realization that parents can be imperfect and successful. In this book, Katie is amazed to learn that her father, a successful lawyer has difficulties spelling. She realizes that her dad was like one of her classmates who works extra hard to spell anything when he was in elementary school. Katie begins to learn that dyslexia has nothing to do with whether or not a person is smart or successful. While reading about this at her local library, she begins to wonder if some of the famous people who had dyslexia had patient and supportive parents and teachers.

The theme of loving parents and teachers who can and do work together is repeated throughout the books. I find this a wonderful illustration of an old idea: The way of successful engagement is through love and intimacy not through a use of crushing power. Too often teachers, parents, and children feel misunderstood. These books both show and tell us again and again that the way through that is to enter the heart of the problem and mindfully engage it and each other.

As my eight year old says regarding these thoughtful and delightful books: “These books would help anyone around eight years old. They help with spelling, writing, math, paying attention, we all have to do that.”

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Odd Couple, Odd times

This oil disaster in the gulf has prompted a lot of conversation. For me, part of that involved speaking with an old friend. Topics that seem rather pedestrian - responsibility, ethics, care, trauma, repair. What might be interesting about that is that my friend is a bartender. This sounds like a strange variant of a classic joke to us - a psychologist and a bartender walk into!?? Well, that is what we decided. What will come of it. That is to be determined. Tune in by clicking here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Link to Division 39

Its been some time since I posted here, and it occurred to me that more time will pass before I get back to posting here. One reason for this is that I'm doing some psychology writing on another website. Click here to check it out.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


On the birth of My Son

Families, when a child is born

Want it to be intelligent.

I, through intelligence,

Have wrecked my whole life,

Only hope the baby will prove ignorant and stupid.

Then he will crown a tranquil life,

By becoming a Cabinet Minister.

I apologize to the Cabinet Ministers. I hope you are laughing. For it is such a funny poem. I translate it through the oft quoted phrase: The best laid plans of mice and men. Indeed, it ain't easy. It being plural as noted by Sigmund Freud and recently in the New York Times – parenting, like psychotherapy and politics may often be considered impossible. So, I'm voting for a humble father's day.

I encountered the piece by poet Su Tung P'o in a lovely little book entitled Who Ordered this Truckload of Dung? written by Ajahn Brahm. The title itself serves as an apt reminder that despite our best plans, we often encounter the unexpected. Such encounters are not always pleasant. As Su Tung P'o observes, sometimes the unexpected occurs directly because of our best planning. That a monk would choose to include such a poem in a book whose title shifts our attention to Dung is a gentle reminder that in accepting Dung when it arrives in an unquestioning fashion allows working out what to do with the Dung as opposed to questioning how it came to be there.

With every intent to play on associations of dirty diapers, such an attitude is captured well in Wordsworth's line, " The child is father to the man." Although, the line has been read by some as provocative, there is something quite simple about parenting affording a chance for one to find a path to maturity. Fathers' day is about that. Certainly, most children are in possession of more than enough toys. Evidence for such an opinion may be found in that an organization attempting to reduce the commercial onslaught that co-occurs with contemporary childhood exists. So, I am not going to suggest that the gifts should go to the kids on Fathers' day. However, I am suggesting that we take Wordsworth seriously, that there would be no man without the child. To that end, I am reminded of something that I have come to note in my psychotherapy practice: Some consider Fathers' day to be a day in which Dad gets a break; others consider it a day in which Dad is embedded with his family. Such a split between family and self may be considered a variant of the hard independent man on the one hand or the soft dependent man on the other. Such a split may also be found in conceptions of fathering – the hard disciplinarian or the softy. Guys, do we really have to choose such a dichotomy? I think not. There is certainly something to be said about a masculinity that can give and take – simply one that is strong enough not to be brittle. This matters in regard to fathering. An ability to join with family without forgoing strength, but situating strength in a respectful fashion may be considered a central component of mindful parenting. To that end, I am advocating a Fathers' Day in which the gift of fathering is shared. Wordsworth's idea may be considered to have manifested itself in a literal fashion for some fathers, and there is good science suggesting that such relational involvement literally changes one's brain. Supporting the idea that such changes may be beneficial, I find a recent email from a colleague alerting me to a press release indicating that yes, men who are fathers are more inclined to take care of themselves.

It was about 1,000 years ago that Su Tung P'o noted the difficulties and limits found in parenting. I'm not certain that living was any easier then, but folks might not have been confronted with the same level of concern as to what constitutes the boundaries of gender roles such as fathering. Today, living in a world in which not all fathers identify as straight, underscores Wordsworth in an interesting manner. He refers to children not women or other men as being the source of making a man. If being a dad makes a man, just what sort of parent and child interactions are necessary for this to work? Conservative ideas have long been a part of twentieth century theory. Taking such theory seriously seems important at a historical moment in which hate crime based on sexuality is on the rise while simultaneously a movie about the difficulty of being straight is being released. Sociologists Peter Hennen and Susan Ferguson have addressed such gendered anxiety in a recent review of books on men and children. There they note that the concept of naturally derived clear gender roles has been challenged in contemporary culture, and that presently there is good evidence for the existence of a backlash attempting to restore gender to a simpler past. What of good science? Hennen and Ferguson suggest that anxiety regarding a structural change in which power sharing and masculinity need not be mutually exclusive makes sense and hope that we might find work that helps one negotiate tendencies toward backlash. Recently, I had the good fortune to have an essay on Fathering as depicted in the film Finding Nemo included in a book entitled Heterosexual Masculinities. I would like to suggest that not only does this book (yes, I am biased!) afford movement away from backlash tendencies, but also that Pixar has given us much in the way of affording divergent portraits of fathering. As for my take on the loss of Nemo's mom, well that's in the book!

I do think that in regard to themes of fathering, Pixar has been hitting it out of the park. Nemo is not the only film to showcase the need for an engaged understanding between father and son. In the movie Cars, the protagonist Lightin' begins to mature under the tutelage of a mentor – Doc. Currently, the movie UP is occupying center stage. Here as in Cars, the father is a surrogate father – and as in Cars – the father is substantially older and a single parent. In each case, the father character is reluctant to parent, but is unable to say no – that a loving attitude breaks the father's heart open and he relents. In UP the viewer is shown in multiple ways that desire for one's own quiet adventure simply does not work. To that end, I am reminded of the oft quoted John Lennon – life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans – from the song Beautiful Boy.

Lennon and Su Tung P'o are in harmony on this one. A wise parent knows that intelligent plans can be troublesome. Yet, we have to risk trouble and let life happen. This is what engaged parents do every day. As the English pediatrician DW Winnicott noted about mothers – there can be no child without a mother – let us hold the same standard for fathers. Further, let us on Fathers' day pause and remember all fathers with us and not who are separated from their children due to war. May we know peace.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


As we come upon the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his work On the Origin of the species, I find myself thinking about fitness and its psychological implications. I notice that my own implicit sense of adaptation entails being on point and being engaged. However, engagement is a complicated experience. Simply, where does one's focus land? Is the fittest the one who engages a goal without relenting or has a capacity to rest? Here, I am reminded of the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare. Our rabbit does rest and runs hard too. Yet, this haphazard fashion results in loss while the gentle persistence of the turtle affords a victory. In that regard, the pressure that the turtle feels – the gentle push of "slow and steady wins the race" – doesn't quite have the punch I first experience when I hear "survival of the fittest." So why is it that the turtle not only survives, but thrives in this lovely fable? What might evolutionary theory have to say?

According to Terrence Deacon, a professor of Biological Anthropology and Linguistics at UC Berkeley, the fitness ideal of an unrelenting drive of "never give up" as necessary to success if not fitness itself may not be all that it is cracked up to be. Deacon is interested in what happens when such pressure is absent. To that end, he suggests that when the pressures of the environment that I think of when I imagine some early giraffe straining to get leaves that are just out of reach are absent, that unexpected and synergistic effects might arise. In this regard, I hear him saying not only that when leaves are in reach and plentiful that giraffe's have it easier, but that when we are not stressed we can be creative. Now the rub, as a highly creative coffee drinking species, far from being an exemplar of fitness, Deacon sees what has been called a "degenerate ape".

Maybe this is overstated – degenerate ape indeed. True, there are couch potatoes. But, there are also athletes and monks. Currently, our television affords a reminder that includes spin off books singing praises to the spirit of get up and move to those resting on the couch. The computer also applauds such efforts for sedentary members of the point and click set. The sheer intensity of such reality based programming leads me to wonder if it is a manifestation of some sort related to a correlation between a poor economy and poor health. If only the DOW could shake its groove thing! Yet like the bear of Wall Street, I find myself thinking about the longevity of the turtle in comparison to the flashiness of that loser of a rabbit. The turtle, I think inhabits the space in which pressure has lifted. Unlike the stressed out rabbit, the turtle does not crash. The turtle demonstrates an even handedness that I think renders the rabbit in degenerate terms. The only thing degenerate about the turtle is a lack of the stress and tension. It may be that an ability to not be the reactive rabbit but a steadfast turtle who can tolerate a shifting world without a hyper-vigilant response might well be a sign of fitness or a mature fitness. We can lead our lives like the erratic rabbit. However, the turtle also appears to enjoy a good race, and we know that exercise helps mood and longevity.

This seems like enough for me to turn off the television, shut down the laptop and get outside. However, it's not always as easy as Nike's – Just do it. We often turn the television back on and watch someone else attempt to lose weight. What of our own motivation? In September of 2008, I had the pleasure of attending a talk given by Robert Kegan, Ph.D. Kegan is a Co-Director of the Change Leadership Group, and he addressed the difficulties found when trying to change – anything. Like many a good speaker on motivation, Kegan led a group of several hundred in an exercise about change. Over the past year, I had come to tire of my complaining about lack of exercise in one too many peer conversations. In Kegan's exercise, I began with pen and paper and in dialogue with the person seated next to me to examine my competing commitments to exercise. I work and have a family. Woops. Life is complicated. Getting back in shape was going to require not only thinking outside the box that had become my life, but changing that box without breaking it.

I know a lot about fitness. After all, I used to take long mountain bike rides when I lived on the west coast. In graduate school, having moved east, I took up running and yoga with weight training. I hadn't really had to reflect on the fact that I stopped biking because of the time it required to get a work out similar to what I found in running and weight training. That time bind had been easily solved. Especially with the help of good community, it was practically easy for running to find its own place in my life. I did not have to reflect on what allowed me to evolve or change my best practices. Yes, I realize I've shifted from speaking about evolution in biological species terms to psychological individual terms. That is an occupational hazard.

When I found that my ability to run consistently was threatened, I began to feel a bit, well rabbit like. Kegan's exercise revealed to me that there was good reason for this. After all, I'm motivated for work and family life to go well. I also like to do other stuff besides break a sweat when I have a few minutes. I wasn't certain that I could find a solution. I certainly did not yet have the calm of the turtle regarding my feelings about my being out of shape. Acceptance was not easily forthcoming.

One thing I like about psychoanalysis is that it clearly states that our motivations are multiple and that in everything we do there is compromise. To that end, being a psychologist helped quite a lot. I didn't expect to find an easy feeling of turtle grace before acting. I knew that would only come later, and that such experience would ebb and flow and require care if such a flux was to be maintained. So, I began taking this long view of the turtle seriously while slowly making small changes. I began to think that I could actively shift the 'selection pressure' I felt in my daily life. I remembered reading in Runner's World some years back about the benefit of cooking in advance. So, I put a freezer in the basement to store good food cooked in advance. I found my old orthotics, and made an appointment to get them tuned up. I found an old chin-up bar and mounted it in a door frame. I wasn't certain what else I was going to do. However, I continued to believe that I was moving in a direction that would make change possible, and like the turtle - allowed uncertainty to be a companion without becoming anxious and erratic like the rabbit.

So, while enjoying that my son had discovered that he could browse the stacks on his own at our local library, I began flipping through a copy of BookPage one afternoon this past winter. I wasn't looking for an exercise book, but there it was – a book about short duration exercise. In addition to some easy cynicism, this piqued my interest. I ordered a copy. I was a little disappointed to find that the book's target audience was soccer moms who work. While I am a parent who works, um, I'm a guy – looking good in a little black dress simply wasn't one of my goals. Back to being a psychologist again: I hear clients talking about Michelle Obama's arms, and I even found myself thinking that although he is a guy too, that Pete Cerqua was smart to market his book to women. I've read enough work by Carol Gilligan and I also live on this planet. The argument that women are simply more relational and less rigid is commonly found. While my own interest in gender theory is apparent, it was trumped by my own need for survival. I know the odds – women get depressed and seek treatment – men drink – was that a beer in my hand or my running shoes??! A simple binary of degenerate ape or turtle left me thinking that this was no time for gender essentialism or workout rigidity.

Not being an essentialist, I lead with my enjoyment of core and cardio. I began to play with an integration of Cerqua's program with my yoga knowledge base and found a ten minute routine that I could do three times a week on the days "I don't have time to exercise." Although I had read about single set strength training before, I was suspicious that this would not amount to anything. I did not see any other options that were forthcoming. As I began this program, a colleague started a team - Psychologist's for healthy habits through a local program – Shape Up Rhode Island. The program's foundation is time spent walking, and with the arrival of a pedometer and a journal, it was time to lace up my running shoes. Making the commitment to track each step for a few months made a difference. First, it showed me that on long work days, I was sedentary. Ugh. My weekly workout began to look like this: core routine three times a week, running and weight machines once a week, and two other runs – preferably outdoors with use of my chin up bar after running. In total I was exercising three hours and thirty minutes a week. The thirty minutes of core work spread out over three days afforded glue that left me feeling that the benefits of my short runs over very few days wasn't lost. The proof of course was in the pudding – in addition to gaining upper body muscle mass and improving as a runner, I lost 10 pounds in three months.

I feel lighter and happier. Not too many weeks ago, I went out for a run on a Sunday. I had forgotten that the Cox Sports Marathon would pass through my neighborhood. Yet there were these two guys with red flags around the corner from my house. I noticed them before the front runners arrived. By the time I found time to lace up and get out for my own run, mid packers were running by. I went out for my usual five miler, and found that about 20 minutes of my route overlapped with the marathon course. I knew from having run a marathon just what these folks were up to, and I enjoyed their company for the two miles that my route overlapped their course. Running with these marathoners rendered feelings of having found myself amidst a festival of life – a life in which the steadiness of the turtle finishes the race. Another marathon had come and gone – this one, I hadn't run – but it had afforded its own quiet victory – not quite the strong satisfaction I remembered from crossing the 26.2 line in 1999, but a– more a gentle reminder to keep pushing – slowly, but pushing nonetheless.

Later that day, while shopping for a pair of Croc's for my son at our local shoe store, I happened to notice that my favorite running shoes were on sale. They are still waiting as my older pair (same shoe!) continues to have some mid sole cushion, but after the upcoming 5K this weekend, I plan to begin breaking them in. Let's hear it for the turtle and survival of the fittest.