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Nudging and being nudged

- by Carolyn Bergen

One of my favourite things that happens in therapy is this:

A couple comes in for an initial session. There is tension between them. They are fighting. They have forgotten how to be friends…they have forgotten they are friends. They begin with the complaints…He works too hard. She complains too much. yada yada

As the session progresses, we continue talking…and I'll ask them what they are looking for in counselling. And one of them will develop a far off look and want the way it used to be…when they were friends, and laughed, and were supportive, and had each others back, and gave each other the benefit of the doubt.

And I'll ask more about that. And they'll tell me about how they have been with each other in better days…and they will recall the friendship, and the support. And they tell me, in any one of a 1000 different ways of the story of love in their lives. And it might have laughter, or tears, or be a little crusty around the edges, but we take a look at "the big picture"

And then I'll tell them that I can work with them on this. That it doesn't have to be this way. That I want to work with them on this, and we will work to get them to where they want to be.

Next, he comes in…and he tells me things are much better between them…and he's not actually sure why, but she sure is a lot easier to get along with. She's softer and kinder and he so appreciates the way she has been with him…it makes it warmer at home and he's relaxing.

Next, she comes in…and she tells me that something happened to him after the first session--not exactly sure what, but he's more patient, and he's tried harder to let her know what's happening…and the way he has changed makes her feel different in the relationship.

I love those times when folks come in and give the other credit for the shifts towards warmth and connection in their relationship.

It's the nudge of the session…merely remembering and recalling the good times in the presence of another. Hearing that the other loves and cares and is committed…when one hasn't been quite so sure that the other is "all in" means a lot.

It is cool to see this happen quite often at our offices…before we as therapists feel like we've actually had opportunity to get in to doing some real therapeutic work, we often see shifts in the couple's relationship…simply because they've been nudged to remember things that got a little buried under the day to day stressors of a relationship.

Simply reminding themselves of the goodness that is possible somehow begins to open space for friendlier ways of being…which nobody is taking credit for--because the space is created unconsciously and unawares.

Companies change the context for us all the time…to subtly change our focus and create incremental shifts in our behaviour that have us buy more, eat more, and spend more. The book, Nudge, by Thaler and Sunstein speaks of these nudging strategies. For example, if all the prices in a menu are listed in a single column on the one side, folks will quickly scan the prices and base much of their decision on cost. It the price of the menu items are added at the end of each paragraph of the description of the meal, the eye pays much more attention to the food, with the cost being less of the decision maker. People buy more expensive food. Another example…which seems almost silly in its simplicity and effectiveness: The airport in Amsterdam painted flies (as in, the insect) in the centre of men's urinals in the bathroom. It gave something for men to aim at. There was 80% less urine outside the urinal.

(Women all over Winnipeg are now investigating water proof paint and looking for insect stencils for the inside of the toilet bowls as you read this, huh?)  ;)

The idea of nudging behaviour in a positive direction is one that I think we all win when we spend some time pondering.

Business is realizing that small changes can make a difference. 
  • The Google offices have pre-plated desserts that are small servings--switched up from huge platters of cakes where folks can serve themselves. Having seconds for dessert is another trip to the dessert counter…and so people eat smaller portions of stuff that is best consumed as small treats.
  • Another company, realizing that when spending a week or more teaching/telling people about the policies and values, having them understand corporate culture etc. saw that they scared and intimidated new employees, priming them to be formal and on-edge…not exactly conducive to creative and innovative productivity. They switched to asking new employees questions about how they were best successful, what they needed to be at their best, and how their new employer could help them reach their potential. These new employees had lower rates of turnover and their customers rated them as being more effective.
  • If an employee is invited to consider retirement planning…how much money in a pay check to set aside for RRSP's for when s/he is retired…maybe decades from now--it there is a picture of that employee that is age advanced so s/he is looking at themselves as a senior citizen, they are much more likely to put a greater amount in savings to help that person in the future.
The study of these behaviours is known as "behaviour economics", which Google describes as:
Behavioral economics definition as shown in Google
"Yeah, but Carolyn" you say, "your blog is about connection, not a business blog. Why you filling our heads with this business stuff?"

So glad you asked! :)

It's about the opening story…creating subtle shifts that gently invite the sort of behaviour you desire is hugely more effective than simply telling people what to do. 

Somebody can pour the first glass of wine…and doing something thoughtful and gentle with another often engages them to reciprocate. 

She got home from work one evening and fed the kids and put them to bed and she was tired to the bone. And he was late again. Late again. And even though he was late and the house was a mess, she knew that he would walk in the door, pour his glass of wine, and sit down at the kitchen table and relax. He’d sit and relax. She couldn’t even remember what relaxing felt like. She was always either going like hell or sleeping. Somebody had to keep the family running.

She stared at his bottle of wine on the counter. Then her eyes wandered over to their wedding photo on the wall. Clueless, she thought. We were cluelessBut happy. Look at us. We were happy. We were hopeful.

God, please help us, she said silently.

Then she walked over to the counter and poured a glass of wine for him. She put it next to his book on the kitchen table, the place he loved to sit and relax, and she went upstairs to sleep.

He tiptoed into the house fifteen minutes later. He knew he’d missed the kids’ bedtime again, he knew his wife would be angry againand he prepared himself for her steely silence. He hung up his coat and walked into the kitchen. He saw his glass of wine, and his book, and his chair pulled out for him. He stood and stared for a moment, trying to understand.

It felt like she was speaking directly to him for the first time in a long, long while...

So…imagine what it would be like to invite different behaviour with the people in your life, not by telling them what you need for them, but by creating the environment that is conducive to them doing something that is desirable?
  • Instead of bugging the kiddos to do their homework instead of playing video games, begin to sit at the table after supper with a book to read, and maybe take a few notes with a notebook…learn a new skill, or brush up on the latest for work. Do that regularly for a few weeks…no big speeches needed…and create opportunity for the child to join you at the table with their schoolwork as time passes
  • If you and your family decide y'all want to eat better sized portions, set the table with a smaller sized plate. No big deal, just subtle cues to encourage a better style of consumption.
  • If you decide that it is a better choice to exercise Saturday morning rather than read the paper and drink coffee…put your running clothes on before you go to bed…some of you might think this is gross. But if on waking up, you're ready to go…wouldn't it be that much easier to get up and out the door?
  • If you need to have that difficult conversation about finances with your partner, how could you set it up? (Hint: Exploding at your partner on opening up the credit card bill may not set the environment in the optimal way!) What about saying something like: "We're both gonna hate this conversation…it's gonna make us uncomfortable, and we're gonna have to work hard not to get furious with each other, cuz $ talks can stress the strongest couple, but let's set aside an hour on Thursday night to invest in a brighter future because we care so much about each other. I'll write down some agenda items for us to focus on, and I'm gonna invite you to do the same. I'm scared to have this conversation, but we're worth it!"
Subtly attending to the details of how a conversation are set up, to how a conversation is framed, to environmental cues, to the energy and stress levels of those involved--all of these can change a situation around.

This isn't manipulation, this is sensitive attunement--creating optimal circumstances to increase comfort and safety to allow all to operate out of their best selves.



- by Carolyn Bergen

Join me in a little experiment? 

Get comfortable. Shake out your arms and legs. Take a couple of deep breaths. Check to see if your shoulders are relaxed. Breath in and out again slowly.

And spend a long minute simply noticing this picture, and also notice what you notice about this picture:

A strawberry is an excellent tool for mindfulness based activity

What did you find your eye drawn towards? Leave a note in the comments below…it would be interesting to hear what you each saw when you looked at this picture.

Did you look just at the fruit? Or the plate? Did you notice the way the lights and shadows highlight? Did you see the glistening on the fruit? Did you notice the bright contrast of the green stem? Did you imagine the flavour? Imagine feeling the texture of the strawberry's flesh in your mouth?

After spending a single minute in the middle of a busy day or evening, now notice how your body feels. Monitor the effect of this simple and brief exercise

Many find that when you simply focus on a simple object, life slows down. You notice the pleasure of just noticing the strawberry. It's really beautiful, isn't it? When is the last time you admired a strawberry? When was the last time you slowed down to simply admire the simple beauty of anything?

This, in a very basic form, is an example of mindfulness.

Christopher Bergland says that a kickstart to mindfulness is simply this:

Stop. Breathe. Think about your thinking.

Mindfulness matters. 

A few things about mindfulness:

1. Mindfulness is a focusing with self regulation of attention.

It is a calming…a quieting of the "noise" that we all have in our heads to be able to focus on the immediate experience. This allows for a greater ability to recognize what is happening within our awareness of the present moment.

Like…feel your left foot in your sock right now. Notice the surface and feel of the seat underneath your butt. The ability to be aware opens up possibilities to see things that otherwise might not be noticed.

2. Mindfulness is noticing what is happening without judgement. 

What is happening is neither right nor wrong. It just is. It may not last, or it may. It is allowing what is, to simply be, without wishing it away.

It allows space for what exists, to simply exist.

Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” – James Baraz Poster by Bergen and Associates in Winnipeg

3. Mindfulness is noticing with innocent curiosity

Curiosity is simply exploring, wanting to notice. 

Curiosity pays attention.

Curiosity wants to notice for the sake of noticing.

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana"Mindfulness gives you time. Time gives you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom. You don

Examples of how mindfulness matters:

Some examples of how mindfulness matters in recent weeks from the net:

  • Ellen Langer says that a group of women who did heavy, physically demanding housework were asked if they worked out regularly. They reported they did not. This group was then divided into two groups. One group was encouraged to think about their job as a workout of physical activity in and of itself. This group lost weight and their blood pressure went down. The other group continued their labours as per usual. Their weight and blood pressure remained the same. Both were still working their same usual job.
  • The Dalai Lama is coming to British Columbia to meet with students.  Victor Chan has worked to educated socially and emotionally intelligent students by introducing mindfulness to the school classroom. He notes the correlation between social and emotional fluency and better academic outcomes. Learning self regulation such as used in the famous marshmallow experiment is a helpful mindfulness tool that is predictive of future wellbeing

  • Renee Cullinan writes about the value of mindfulness in business. In the fast paced world of business that pushes productivity and efficiency, one might think that mindfulness would be a lead balloon to success. But, in fact, she makes a valid case for how mindfulness can increase productivity. She asks folks in business to answer questions about: "How many hours do you spend in meetings?" and "How much of the time in those meetings is wasted?" By having staff be mindful of their responses to these questions, they are able to make better choices about how to use their time more wisely and effectively.

Some examples of how mindfulness has been helpful to me in my own life:

  • I wear a Nike fuel band around my wrist that measures my activity every day. I have a target set for "3000 fuel points" (about 12,000 steps) per day. The Nike fuel band helps me be mindful of my activity. This evening, halfway through writing this blog, I checked my points and realized I was only half way to my daily points. I took a break and went walking…it was a beautiful evening, and I had a chance to listen to some music and call a good friend. I reached my goal and had a fair amount of activity…because of how the Nike band enables me to be mindful of how active I have been that day.
  • I gave a workshop today with some folks about suicide awareness and prevention. I was deliberately mindful of my internal workings leading up to the workshop. I was acutely aware of how I regretted my decision to agree to do this…who do I think I am to speak on this topic to a group of capable professionals. But I worked to be mindful beyond the loud noise of the internal dialogue telling me I was outta my league. I also was mindful of the other bits of things I noticed. I reviewed my notes and was pleased with how they seemed to make sense to me. I remembered how I have so often felt ill equipped before hand and then been profoundly grateful of the experience's richness after. I remembered how other people have encouraged me to do things like this. I remembered the times I have lectured on the topic of suicide with students at various times. Being mindful of all of that had me actually be fully present with the participants as they came…and I wasn't even particularly anxious when I arrived.

Some examples of mindfulness that I have observed with others:

  • My Junior Tribe Member was able to self regulate as a toddler. He was able to calm himself in the middle of chaos with the assistance of an empty Playtex nurser bottle that he would hold while he would suck two fingers. During one particularly nasty asthma attack, he was closely monitored at Children's Hospital. Pumped full of medication that made his system race incredibly fast, he could control his heart rate by focusing on the comfort of the bottle and his fingers by 30-40 beats per minute. He was a pro at self regulation. I've never forgotten his ability to control his body even in the face of a very significant health crisis and aggressive medical treatment…I often think back to that event to challenge myself to regulate myself in the face of significant challenges.
  • I spoke recently with a friend who is grieving the loss of her husband some months ago. She has been mindfully grieving his loss…noticing with curiosity the different emotions that bubble up as she mourns. She became aware of the guilt she felt over some incidents in the last months of his illness where she questioned if she should have been/done "more". Talking through the guilt in her experience and being aware of the guilt part of her grief and exploring that was huge in her being able to come up for air in her grieving. Just simply being "profoundly sad" would not have been fully accurate and wouldn't have given her what she needed to take the next step in grieving. 
  • Sometimes, when I am with clients they tell me in broad strokes how they are feeling. e.g. "I am sooo pissed off". One of the things we do is have them become mindful so as to be aware of the nuances of their anger. Is it jealousy? At who, and over what? Is it resentment? Is it because they feel taken advantage of, or cheated? Is it because it reminds them of an old feeling of rejection from years gone by? Is it because this is the 10th time they have had the same wounding and they are wearing thin of patience? Is it because underneath, they are feeling profoundly sad and it is just easier to be angry externally than to vulnerably feel the sadness? (and then feeling the sadness in the session has the anger spontaneously evaporate)
MIndfulness is an incredible tool that can allow us to better be aware of ourselves and our environment in ways that allow us to more effectively move through our lives.

For those of you who are interested in what a mindfulness practice could look like (and believe me, volumes have been written about this--and it can range from full on meditation practice to deliberately slowing down to check in oneself periodically) take a peek at one possibility by a well respected authority on the subject:

The Ups and Downs of Family Gatherings

- by Carolyn Bergen

This weekend is Thanksgiving. In a couple of months will be Christmas. Several months after that will be Easter, then Mother's Day, Father's Day, and July Long Weekend…all of these occasions for times with family.

The week running up to Thanksgiving can be a preoccupied one at a counselling centre. And the week after it, is definitely affected as well.

Here is what I know about hosting family gatherings:

1. People often put unfair value into hosting family gatherings.  The very act of hosting the big dinner is unconsciously turned into a measuring stick of how important one's family is.

Hosts put a lot of pressure into the "perfect gathering" where everything is perfectly cooked, there are multiple salads, and everyone gets their favourite pie. The decorations are specially made, and the centrepieces are planned ahead of time. 

It's like there is a belief that one's love is measured by Martha Stewart-esque perfection and intensive labor.

And the whole thing is no dang fun…just a pile of stress.

And there is little joy in the hosting…and sparse little time for actual lovin'--the laughter, the sharing, the casual conversation…the joy of simple connection.

2. Hosts who invite and encourage help host gatherings that are often more fun.

If someone offers to bring something--say YES! Have a mental list of side dishes or desserts that can make your life easier so when people offer, you know what to say. When people stand up at the end of the meal to help carry dishes into the kitchen to load the dishwasher--say THANX!

Quite frankly, I love it when people accept my offer to bring something. I feel useful. When I'm only making one dish, it gives me a chance to google a new recipe and fuss a little. It's nice to know that there is one less thing for the host to do. And it increases the sense of community when those who can, are able to contribute something.

When I grew up, and we were at my Oma and Opa's house, there was a monstrous crew at the table with all the children and grandchildren--a tiny house and no dishwasher. Cleanup was part of the fun of the evening. It wasn't something that we tolerated to get to the fun…it was part of the fun. The dishes were washed in the kitchen sink and the pots and pans were washed by a second crew in the laundry sink.

Get over making it "perfect", and welcome friendly and casual chaos that has people feeling welcome and comfortable to be their own imperfect selves.

Here's what I know about attending family gatherings

1. In 2014, family gatherings can be a huge hassle and no-win situations, with competing and overlapping invitations. A couple may both have divorced parents with separate homes, and their children may have non-custodial parents. There are times when there isn't time to accept all the invitations. There is no making everybody happy.

Without making tough choices, a person could rush from one huge turkey meal to the next, and still feel like they are disappointing a parent, a step parent, an ex-partner…dragging around exhausted and frazzled children who hate the whole thing.

Give yourself permission to develop a realistic and quality schedule that works for all those involved…yourself and your kids included. Alternate occasions…skip some expressing regrets and the reason behind the choice. Don't expect everyone to understand all the time. Sometimes even those who do understand will be disappointed. That's OK. Disappointment is part of life and it doesn't kill anyone, and its a sign that you are wanted. 

Develop a sustainable rhythm early on…create space for new traditions. Having Thanksgiving time with one family either one week early or late may make it a more special experience and something that can be cheerfully anticipated.

I think the family is the place where the most ridiculous and least respectable things in the world go on. Poster by bergen and Associates. Quote byBetti

2. Doesn't matter how old you are, when you sit down at your mama's table, there is a tendency to feel like a 12 year old.

You know what I'm talking about, huh?

Old insecurities, petty jealousies, sibling rivalries suddenly come out of no where and hijack your normally sane and mature mind. Seeing siblings around the table can bring up feelings we forgot existed.

A person can find themselves experiencing all sorts of things that one hasn't felt or thought about for years…and then acting in a manner that is more consistent with being an adolescent than a fully grown adult.

  • A successful businessman suddenly feels like he's just a twerpy little brother
  • A capable young mom feels like she is performing (and failing) in her role with her sisters watching
  • An son who runs his own business cowers as his father criticizes his new haircut
Long forgotten parts of ourselves get tapped into when we enter into contact with people whom we have known in another context and in another time. Our body feels the familiar space of what it was like long ago, and it all floods right back.

Expect it. Plan for it. Plan things to remember that you might want to gently remind yourself: "When he pokes at me, it makes sense to respond like I did 20 years ago, but I'll be OK. I'm a grown man/woman and I may not be perfect, but I am much more than this poke".

3. Alcohol is an unfortunate and big part of most of these gatherings.

Lemme just be really crass about a very real truthful equation: 

Alcohol + family gatherings = Good business for counselling offices

Quite simply: you can't unring the bell, people.

The Tuesday after a long weekend where there are family gatherings generally have a few messages on the answering machine from folks who have experienced the trauma of a family gathering gone wrong. And generally, there was alcohol involved in the downward spiral.

Alcohol loosens tongues. People say things that shouldn't be said, or in manners and times they shouldn't be said. People say things that aren't true…but those things aren't forgotten.

4. Family gatherings challenge alliances.

I'm not just saying this cuz I'm writing this with Survivor playing on the television in the next room…alliances are huge at family gatherings.

It's painful for a wife to go to her in-laws for Thanksgiving and watch her husband be more loyal to his parents than to her:

  • He laughs when they criticize her
  • He is silent when they make comments about her parenting
  • He agrees to the summer vacation next summer with his folks even though they decided ahead of time that they wanted to vacation alone.
It's agonizing for a husband to go to his in-laws for Thanksgiving and watch his wife be more loyal to her parents than to him:

  • He asks her not to leave him alone with her dad…and she disappears with her mom to a neighbours house for a few hours
  • His father in law asks pointed questions about his not getting a promotion, and how little income he makes, and challenges him to "try harder"…and she is silent
In family therapy, we often think of families in diagrams…and we position family members with dots relative to each other. In healthy families, husbands and wives are closer to each other than others. If a spouse is closer to parents than to his/her partner, the foundation for marital struggles is huge.

Another part of the alliance is supporting your partner…sure, you didn't grow up with his parents, and maybe his dad has bad breath and tells bad jokes…but it's his dad. Going to a family gathering is an act of love.

Does your partner know you have his/her back at the family gathering this weekend?

Family gatherings at Thanksgiving (and other times of the year, for that matter) are a complicated tricky business. They can be painful, triggering, and a ton of energy. The can be tricky to schedule and navigate. They can be exhausting at multiple levels…and can feel like a minefield for new wounds or the reinjury of old ones.

Family is essential because we all yearn to feel like we belong to something greater than ourselves.Laura Ramirez Poster by Bergen and associates in Winnipeg

They can also be times of laughter and reconnection, increasing the strength of the ties that bind family to one another. Stories are re-told, and there can be collective sadness and joy at the memories that are reminisced. Family gatherings increase the glue that connects people…there is benefit from that strength in difficult times ahead. Favorite foods shared remind those around the table of common roots in ways that strengthen the soul.

With careful and deliberate boundaries and planning, courage to be authentic to one's values, and vulnerability to open oneself up to connection, family gatherings can be times of goodness.

Yes I can--with the faith of another

- by Carolyn Bergen

My favourite number is 2.

It has been for a while. One Junior Tribe Member (JTM) has worn 2 on his jersey for quite some time…and another wears 11 (which added up, equals that).

But now "TWO" is really and truly my favoritest number, forever and ever.

Its because of this pint sized little hockey player in the video below. Now, many of you won't take the time to watch the full two minutes and forty five seconds of this video, because in this day that is too long to watch such a slow moving video.

But the slow movement is the truest, awesomest beauty of it.

The puck is on the blue line…a pro player can get it to the net in a second. Even a mediocre hockey player would take 5-10 seconds.

It takes the littlest guy a full two and half minutes to get from the blue line to the goal…and Number 2 is with him the whoooooole long dang time of it.

Number 2 doesn't give up, doesn't take over…Twoster hangs in there, steadily encouraging, helping, shielding, running interference for, and generally just plain ol' persisting to help the little guy reach his goal. HIs patience is something I long to emulate.

Being there for someone else isn't easy. Sometimes its a thankless job, because truthfully…the best helpers disappear into the background so when the goal is achieved, the one being helped can celebrate the victory 

(cue up "arms raised over head" in the last few seconds of the vid--doesn't every pint sized hockey player dream of raising his/her hands after a goal?)

My favourite little twoster understands the value of buffering a bit…letting the other person concentrate and do something at their own pace. He sees that sometimes you have to hold people off or get in their way so that the process can continue its own painfully slow natural course to accomplishment. He knows that given enough time, the goal will be reached and so sometimes, the hardest part of helping is just hanging in there, not taking over, letting it all happen.

I know that it won't work for all of you, dear readers, to watch it to the end…but if you can create the time, please do so. It had me in tears watching the whole relatively-painful-to-watch sooo-slow eeeeking towards the goal at slower-than-a-snail's pace. But along the way, Twoster taught me some lessons about helping in ways that have challenged and changed me in good ways. 

The beauty is in the slowness…take a breather, be mindful, slow down, and watch what a difference careful helping makes. 

Be an awesome Twoster?! 

Being a number 2 can make such a difference in someone else's life.

I know nothing in life comes easy But I am willing to get my hands dirty Keep my head held high and my heart open wide Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling. Quote by Jason Barry, songwriter for 2013 Guelph Hockey Tournament:  Yes I can, in 2013

Trust is an emotion.

- by Carolyn Bergen

Trust is an emotion--a distinctly human feeling.

And normally business likes to think it runs on facts, and we think that feelings don't belong. People who "deliver" regularly--who do everything they promise they are going to do--they are reliable…it doesn't mean people will trust you. You know…you have a good long term friend who messes up…yet you still trust him/her right? It's because s/he and you have a common belief system, a history, and a set of values…we become more confident to take risks and explore…because we trust them, we know they have our backs.

Leadership will tell a person what to do. And it might work, but leadership in and of itself isn't trustworthyWhen a person in leadership has the trust of those they lead…then they have authentic authority

Authority and leadership…so not the same thing. Trust is the difference.

Simon Sinek tells this story:

Imagine you want to go out on a date, but need a babysitter for the evening. You have two choices…you can get a 16 year old girl from down the street that you have known for years with very little babysitting experience…or a 32 year old who has 10 years experience. Who would you choose?

Yeah, I'd pick the young girl from my community too.

We'd rather have people that we have multiple points of connection with than well qualified people who we don't know what they believe and what their values are and where they come from.

The emotion of trust develops in a "high touch" and high frequency sort of way. We need confidence and frequency to develop trust…trust happens in drops, and fills the trust bucket gradually.

Picture this…you have a positive interaction with another person--it's like a little string. A single string isn't very strong and could break easily. You have a thousand small interactions with that person…little moments of connection. A thousand strings…well, that forms a net.

A net can hold a lot more weight…and with that level of trust, weightier stories can be shared.

We all long to be known…we want to tell our stories and be heard…but the strength of the bond between us needs to be able to hold the weight of the stories.

There's a few things I know about the strings that hold trust:

Strings are developed best in proximity. 

It's hard to develop trust online. We have these "mirror neurons" in our brain…you know that reflex to yawn when others yawn? On MRI's, the parts of our brain that have us smile light up when we see others smile…we connect and build trust when we are with another person in a way we can't when things are done online. 

Trust is about human interaction and real conversations. 

When we are in face to face something extra happens that can't happen online. When two people "shake" on a deal, it means something more than if they just agree to it verbally. That physical act of shaking hands and looking each other in the eye seals the deal.

Nets of trust are developed over time.

The net that develops that holds the weight of major trust develop in the smallest of moments, with small strings and little threads gradually building strength. 

  • Remembering someone's name. 
  • Asking about something they told you a week ago. 
  • Following through. 
  • Showing up on time. 
  • Being there
  • Listening
Big grand gestures of trips and pay raises and large gifts--they're nice--but trust is built with small threads and thin strings over time.

Nets of trust can be ripped apart

The net that develops with thousands of small threads can be destroyed in an instant. 

Picture this: You take a child for walks regularly…and they meet dogs along the way. The child who meets dogs that are the same size, and sniff and lick or held on a leash by the owner. Then one day a dog pulls the leash away from the owner's hand and bounds up to the child, knocking the child over. The dog snarls and bites the child.

The next day, the child refuses to go for a walk at all…so as not to encounter any dogs at all. The child now doesn't trust any dogs…because despite many friendly dogs, one really bad encounter with one nasty one sours the species. 

Trust is like that.

I am not angry because you lied to me, I am angry because I can

Nets of trust can slowly erode with neglect

Disengagement is the most subtle way to break trust.  It's sinister and subversive. To pretend to "be there" and be trustworthy, but to be preoccupied and not be following through…and then to deny it when it's raised. That erodes the net slowly over time in difficult and painful ways.

Trust is vital to survival…it is the precursor to connection…which we all require for life.

(This video has some great ideas…the middle is a little boggy…but the first and last 5 minutes are really helpful to our discussion)


- by Carolyn Bergen

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Quote by Brene Brown. Poster by Bergen and ASsociates Counselling in Winnipeg

Sigh…so many of the things I talk about with people in my day boil down to a simple, but terrifying doubt around the issue of "Am I enough?"

The question comes out in various ways: "Am I pretty enough?", "Will people like me?", "Have I done enough to impress them?", "What will people think of me?".

And, in fear of the answers, we answer for them…in ways which are safe but disparaging…and heart wrenching. We decide for other people how badly they think of us. And we don't truly allow ourselves to be seen and loved for who we are. We just know that "I am ugly", "no one really likes me", "I'm not special".

But often those who love us can seen beyond that, behind the crappy way we feel about ourselves, and see our true beauty…and if we are caught by surprise, we can be blown away by the beauty others see in us.

The people that see you--truly and deeply see you--they see your beauty and how you show love, respect and affection. It matters to them…sometimes they might forget to tell you, but it does. It matters.

Just like this...

 "You are beautiful, not just on the outside, but you are so much on the inside. A moment does not go by that people don't see that."

The Influence of Others

- by Carolyn Bergen

We are wired for connection…

Yeah, I've read that a time or two on this blog, right?

What it means is that we are social creatures, wired to want to belong. We feel better when we have people surrounding us…and it is helpful to split up chores and responsibilities, to band together against the dangers of this world, to keep each other warm, and to stick together to establish safety for the little ones we seek to raise to adulthood.

What it means is that we work to create community--to influence others and be influenced together. When we think together, we become a team. Becoming a team can make the difference between eating lunch and being lunch:

I love watching videos that show flocks of birds…somehow, these birds, which Winnie the Pooh always said were "of very little brain" could move in synchrony with each other in ways that Blow. My. Mind.

How do they do that? How do they work together so fluidly and incredibly?

They influence each other.

Humans may be a lot worse at flying, and a little more sophisticated in differentiating their behaviour, but we influence others.

You don

Recent studies looked at how apathy is contagious:

We interpret the actions of the people around us. When we see people acting indifferently to a task, we know that they are expressing a lack of interest in that task. That lack of interest is then related to our existing commitment to a goal. When we are wavering in our commitment to a goal, then seeing others who are apathetic nudges us in the direction of giving up. When we are highly committed to a goal, then seeing others who are apathetic actually increases our commitment.

Art Markman

In 2007, I took a course where I had to critique research articles. One of the articles was: The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 43 years in The New England Journal of Medicine  The study looked in a complex 3 dimensional way at the relationships up to three connections of over 12000 people over 32 years. Now, 7 years later, when Dahlia Kurtz at CJOB 680 asked me about this topic, I remembered this article because the significance of it stuck with me.

What researchers found was that a person's chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval. If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse would become obese increased by 37%. These effects were seen when folks were in significant relationships with others…the effect wasn't among neighbours who merely leaved nearby each other.

Friends of the same gender had greater influence on each other with regard to Body Mass Index than opposite sex friends…makes sense, right? We live a lot of our social (read: eating) lives with our buddies of the same gender.

What this seemed to be about is something like this: if you are at work and finish your lunch in the lunchroom with 20 minutes left in the break, and you hang out with people with poor eating habits, then y'all may decide to head down to the candy machine and have some dessert. If a new staff person starts, and s/he's a triathlete, after you watch him/her munch on their yogurt and veggies and hummus, you may get invited for a brisk walk outside. After several weeks of those noon walks, you may find yourself also changing what you bring for lunch.

I have coffee weekly with a friend of mine…and months ago, she got a wrist band that measured her steps everyday. She talked with me about it over the months…and a few times, we walked during our coffee time so she could get her steps count up. Getting in enough steps everyday became a natural part of her conversation. She never told me to get a wrist band…I just saw how good it was for her to have one.

In June, I got a wrist band as well.

My daily step count has tripled in the last 3 months…because of who I hang out with--M has been a marvellous influence on me. I'm fitter, lost a few pounds, and find myself eating better.

One or two elections past, I was busy during an election. One Junior Tribe Member had a practice at one end of the city, the other a game at the other end. I had messages to return, emails to write, notes to scribe, and milk to pick up…I could go on. I was tempted to skip the voting…after all, I have only one vote amongst a whole city's votes. In my list of tasks, it didn't seem all that important. A colleague overheard me, and sternly (and correctly) stated: "Carolyn, there are people literally dying in parts of the world to have their voice heard in determining the future of their city. They have given up so much in the fight to have influence. Many parts of this world, women are counted as having an opinion. You have a vote handed to you…how can you not exercise your right to vote?" 

Gulp. Right between the eyes. She. Was. Right.

I found time to vote that day. I will always find time to vote. For as long as I live, I will vote every chance I get to honour the lives lost in the struggle to be able to have a vote.

I have that opinion because of L. She influenced me.

Years ago, I worked in a health care institution. It had a large department that I worked in. Morale was low. People complained. A lot. Management was labelled as incompetent. The government was criticized for not understanding health care. We didn't have enough resources.

It rather became part of the culture to use coffee breaks to complain about all that was wrong with the system. It was pervasive and I remember being so very discouraged with all that was wrong with healthcare.

Then I moved cities and changed jobs…and began working for another health care facility. It had a "cup half full" sort of culture. This place had staff that encouraged each other to be involved in the community. We laughed and enjoyed each other's adventures at coffee break. When budget cuts came down the pipe, there were meetings the executive had with each team asking for ideas as we all together brainstormed how we were going to triumph through a challenge without compromising patient care.

It was remarkable how much different two departments could be, given that they were both in the Canadian Health Care System. I could feel the change in my spirit as I worked in the second place…more compassionate and patient, giving people the benefit of the doubt, and doing what I was able to within the system to be part of the solution. Both places were working with imperfect systems run by imperfect people doing the best they can--but the attitude of those around me influenced me hugely.

Bottom line: How does a fish know its in water if that's all it knows? It's really hard. We can absorb the influence of others in our surroundings for good or bad without even realizing that it could be any other way.

Mindfulness is critical. When everybody else is complaining about their spouse at the gathering of friends, and you join in to be part of the crowd (because we are hardwired for connection, right?)…you leave with a grumpy feeling towards all that isn't right with your partner. When you go to a different gathering, and you hear people challenging themselves on how to better connect with their partner--well, you go home with a different headspace.

What that means is making choices about what groups to hang around, and being thoughtful about what sort of influence you have in shaping the atmosphere that others are in…because others will conform to the standards that you participate in creating.

We share in the responsibility of creating spaces that build people up, of creating communities where challenge is constructive, of making environments where feedback is productive, and relationships that leave people feeling in a better space to be more authentically who they are.


Hump Day Nudge: Win or lose, we're gonna be OK

- by Carolyn Bergen

I have a deep respect for the energetic wisdom of Apollos Hester. I realize this will date me, but as I watched this man, I kept thinking…"Out of the mouths of babes…" He's hardly a toddler, but his words seem well beyond his years, even as a young adult.


He's clearly excited after a come-from-behind win. His excitement and vigour for life are rather infectious…and sometimes, the clarity of youth can speak to all of us. 

He understand the value of team. He recognizes we belong to each other…and that we are wired for connection. Apollos knows that people do better when other people are around.

This is a nudge to get through your day today. Aren't nudges like this, just what we need sometimes?

Quote by Apollos Hester, high school football athlete who says,"if you fall down, just get up.  If you can

Building Capacity: You Can Do It!

- by Sabrina Friesen

I am not a morning person.

This might be an understatement.

I’m quite certain that all of my college papers were written between the hours of 11:00pm and 1:00am, and that I never really engaged meaningfully in class until after 9am and a few cups of coffee.  Many years later, and in spite of parenting a couple roosters/children, some things don’t change.  After a lazy summer schedule that didn’t beg the alarm to be set I have found the cooler, darker mornings of the structured school year to make it extra hard to get out of bed.  And so in an attempt to combat my reluctance I have started to set the coffee maker the night before, hoping the smell of a fresh pot of dark roast would lure me out of bed.

But my most genius plan yet was hatched just this week; I call it Operation: Breakfast.  With two young kids who are up at the crack of dawn, there are often shuffling feet beside my bed long before I’m ready to get up asking in way-too-alert voices, ‘Can you get me breakfast?’  [insert sigh, and maybe a groan, and a wish for a two hour nap to top off my too-short night of sleep].  

I can admit I am not always proud of how grumpy and rude I sound to two people I really love every now our nightly routine of teeth brushing, story reading, and bedtime snuggles also includes me taking their breakfast orders. 

Before bed I move the toaster to the edge of the counter, pull out butter knives, Nutella, and plastic plates, fill up cups and leave them waiting in the fridge, and pour dry cereal into plastic containers, being sure to leave our teeny tiny toy Tupperware jug filled with milk and slightly open, ready to pour.  

And now the mornings include two excited kids, tag teaming to help each other out while they get themselves breakfast.  

It is genius!  

Now my wake ups, while still early, aren’t filled with the same sense of urgency.  I listen to the coffee dripping into the pot alongside the sound of my children chatting over bagels and Froot Loops. 

It is a beautiful way to start the day.

But it’s not the extra sleep that leaves me so thrilled.  Ok.  So maybe it’s a little bit about the peace of waking up without demands.  

But what struck me this morning as I passed my oldest on the way to his room to get dressed, after he’d toasted and creamcheesed his own bagel before putting his dish in the sink, was how proud of themselves my kids were to be taking on some responsibility for themselves.  

My totally selfish decision to buy a few moments of unrushed calm in the morning not only altered the pace of my day, but inadvertently communicated some really important ideas to my kids.  Letting them show up for themselves and not needing to take charge sent them the message that, ‘I know you can handle this.  I trust you.’   

While it’s true that I have no idea how much creamcheese made it onto said bagel, it’s not really important.  And I’m confident that we’ll have a giant milk spill one of these days, but we’ll just clean it up.  This plan borne out of exhaustion has turned out to be a wonderful experiment in capacity building for my children, as I – after setting the stage – let them learn how to experiment with independence in a safe place. 

As I pondered the idea of capacity building in my kids, I thought of the work I do with people on a regular basis.  Sometimes parents, even parents of adult kids, have held the reigns so tight that they have sent the message to their children that, ‘You don’t know what you’re need my help to make decisions.’  This creates adult children who are scared to death of making a choice, because they’re sure they’ll screw it up.  

Or some who hear from partners that, ‘You folded the towels wrong, I’ll just do it,’ sending the message that their partner is not clearly not capable to handle such a task. This leaves partners choosing to step away, rather than towards someone they love because their efforts never feel good enough.  

Sometimes friends feel the need to chime in on every outfit choice, haircut, or boyfriend in a way that undermines the ability of someone they love to feel confident in their preferences or instinctual decisions.  This leaves a person feeling insecure, and unsure if their ‘friends’ really accept them for who they are.

Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes as people who love people we need to hold up a mirror to poor choices that can have dicey consequences and with wrinkled foreheads say, ‘Really?’  That is part of being a good parent/partner/friend, too.  But I am not talking about the red flag much as the ordinary day-to-day stuff. 

I saw an acquaintance in Costco yesterday.  L was telling me about her uncertainty around a school related decision with one of her kids.  She told me point blank what she and her son wanted; they agreed.  But L stood there, hemming and hawing as she spoke – sharing how other people thought she should go another direction.  This was not a choice that involved sending her son to join the circus, sending him to boot camp, or endangering him in any way.  It was a choice where one option was not obviously better than the other, and where neither choice was poor.  And yet L couldn’t decide.  L could not access her own capacity to choose, for the encouragement (read: judgement) of others had drowned out her own voice.

I stood with L for a few moments, validating how hard it is to parent – and how we never quite feel like we’re making the right choice – and rolled off to the checkout encouraging her to trust herself.  That was my small effort to say, ‘Go Mom!  You’ve got this!’ 

And when my youngest asked me what to wear today I told her that was a decision she could definitely handle on her own, inviting an array of mix-matched disasters, but knowing that the act of choosing for herself was more important than any coordinating colors could ever be.

How do we build capacity into those around us?  

Capacity Building: Loving others in ways that say,"I believe in you. Go for it.  You can do it" Quote by Sabrina Friesen.  Poster by Bergen and Assocaites in Winnipeg

How do we love people in a way that says, ‘I believe in you.  Go for it!  You can make this decision, and I’ll support you,’ and not take over or try and take charge of their stuff?  

Don’t get me wrong, when capacity is inadvertently stripped, I am confident that a lot of the time it is done so with love, and a sincere desire by the other to help improve a situation.  But unfortunately ‘helping’ can send the message that, ‘You can’t take good enough care of yourself...let me do it for you.’ 

I, for one, will keep on taking those breakfast orders each night, and will enjoy the morning chatter between my two lovelies as they take care of each other (and themselves) while the sun is still dark and my coffee is dripping.  

I will resist the urge to reprimand when good efforts don’t produce phenomenal results, and instead celebrate the courage it took to try.  

I will step-the-heck-back out of situations that others can handle, and instead be the steady-on-the-side who cheers others on as they learn to show up and discover just how capable they really are. 

We all need a little more of this in our lives...people to cheer us on and tell us, ‘You can do it!’ 

Fear: Breaking Out from the Prison It Creates

- by Carolyn Bergen

Years ago, I was going through a scary time…didn't know how I would pay the mortgage AND put food on the table. Didn't know how I was going to get all the regular and the extra things done that needed doing before I ran out of week to do them in. I was scrambling and scared, confused and crazed.

But I made it through…each hour, each day, and each week passed--and I didn't drown in debt or responsibilities. I got the papers marked by the deadlines, Junior Tribe Members where they needed to be, and showed up at meetings where major decisions about my life were being made. I was terrified…but somehow, with profound faith, I kept showing up.

Even when I was scared, I kept showing up.

Even terrified, I showed up.

I'd like to say it was because I was brave. It wasn't. I wanted to hide under a blanket. 

Actually, what I really wanted was a coma. A good old fashioned 6 month coma that would allow me to escape the life that had become so unfamiliar and scary, so intimidating and overwhelming.

But alas, the coma didn't happen…and so I showed up…because I. had. to.

I showed up because I didn't have a choice.

So...I showed up and made it through…and realized, through that process, that I am stronger and more capable than I often give myself credit. (Aren't we all?) And I happen to also believe that Help is there when we ask for it, and I got Help when needed.

So…I made a promise to myself and to the Help…from here on in, if I am asked to do something that someone believes I am capable of, I will say, yes.  I have forbidden myself to say no because of fear. I can say no because of boundaries/need to appropriate schedule, because it simply is not in my skill set…but I simply won't say "no" because i'm scared.

Gosh, but that can be inconvenient!

Just over a year ago, this new talk show host, Dahlia Kurtz, asked me to do an interview with her on how parents can help children with school anxiety. 

She asked me to talk about fear reduction…which was ironic…because being on radio terrified me. I believe that when a microphone is put in front of my face, I lose my ability to speak in complete sentences.

I said yes (because by internal contract, I had to). And after the interview, I could think of all sorts of things I could have done differently (read: better). And don't you know it, Dahlia phoned me a week later and asked me to do another interview.

And I cheerfully agreed with her while on the phone (because, you see, I have this internal commitment I've made to myself, even if, gosh darn it, I am kicking myself for this concept that is now completely ridiculous). And after I agreed, I started shaking my head and grumbling and flapping my hands and wondering why I put myself through this.

Why would I agree to a second radio interview in two weeks? Cah-ray-zee!!

I showed up.

Then, Dahlia asked me to speak regularly on her show. And by regularly, she meant weekly


A weekly opportunity to ruin my career by sticking my foot in my mouth and saying something completely nonsensical. A weekly chance to have the entire city of Winnipeg (and surrounding area) discover that I'm a fraud, that I don't know what I'm talking about, and that I should just quit doing all therapy now. A weekly confrontation with fear. (You catastrophize too sometimes, don't you?)

But I said yes. (Cuz I had to). 

I knew it was a cool opportunity. I also "knew" that I couldn't do it.

And thus I became a regular--the "resident therapist" of CJOB's Dahlia Kurtz's afternoon show.

The receptionist at the front desk at CJOB, Lisa, chuckled at me when I would arrive to do my segment. She would get me a half of a glass of water…I needed some water cuz my mouth is so darn dry--but only half a glass, because I didin't trust myself to not spill it or somehow send it flying across the room such that I would independently destroy thousands of dollars of radio equipment. (It never happened, but there was no guarantee).

When friends asked me how long I would do it, I would say, "At least until it no longer terrifies me." (I was thinkin' that might mean forever.)

About two or three months in, Dahlia and I were chatting before we went on-air and she said, "I think you're good on radio, and my boss likes you." (and that's a direct quote because I memorized it and repeated it to myself for months each time a part of me said, "What the heck are you doing? You don't know how to do radio!") Dahlia works on the radio, as a professional radio host, for Pete's sake--and if she says I'm good enough--I better darn well believe her! Wouldn't she be a better judge than I about a successful interview--I mean, seriously?

But, don't we often listen to the little gremlins of fear inside of us like they know more than the people in our lives who believe in in us and know what they are talking about?

It took about 9 months of near weekly interviews for me to stop feeling my stomach before each interview. It's taken about a year to actually look forward to the time at the station--a few minutes before and in-between to catch up with Dahlia, someone I now consider a friend--a chance to catch up on her dog, my work, her event, my kids, her parents. I've had a chance to meet interesting people who are in the studio before me, and to be present during "breaking news" as it is relayed to our city. I've been bumped for Juno award winners--how cool is that--to be bumped by VIP's! I know a little of the workings of the inside of a radio studio…and I like to learn new things. It's a rich experience that I wanted to pass up on.

I'm glad I didn't.

See, cuz there are two main ways of getting rid of fear when we are scared of something:

1. Pull back.  

Think about it. Think about how that making that phone call puts you on edge. Think about how it feels better to decide to go do a load of laundry first, and then to rearrange the paperclips on your desk or go get another cup of coffee. Because as long as you stay away from that phone call that makes you uncomfortable, you feel better.

It's easier to not apply for the job, cuz then you don't have to show up for that interview that you are terrified of.

It's easier to watch television rather than have the talk about the credit car bills with your spouse.

Fear is reduced by moving farther away from the feared object…and the idea that this is a good thing is reinforced because we feel better…except we aren't fully and truly engaged with life.

It is tempting each time to reduce my fear of microphones by saying no to interviews of any kind…I don't have to worry about being misquoted, being asked a question I don't have an immediate intelligent response for, or drawing a blank and blurting out something that doesn't make sense. 

And when I do that, I let myself get smaller, my life less rich, and I miss out on something pretty darn cool.

2. Extinguish the fear

The other way to reduce the fear is to do the feared thing and to be underwhelmed by the response. The fear becomes extinguished because life doesn't end, nothing blows up, and the sun rises in the east as per usual the next morning. My family still loves me, and my friends speak to me each week on Fridays, after I do a radio interview on Thursdays, regardless of how it went.

So…I'm apprehensive but I talk to Dahlia anyway. We speak--I may not knock it outta the park with each sentence, but she asks me back. I do good enough. I do it again. And again. Rinse and repeat.

And I am squeezing life for all its worth. Live radio--how fun is that!? Saying "yes" is terrifying--but exhilarating too. Joan Rivers, the comedian who recently passed away, lived a "Yes" life--She said "yes" as a powerful place to come from, and attributed her long and successful career to saying, "yes". She said "yes" to saying what other people were thinking, but dared not say. When I say yes, I am making a choice to fully engage in my life--

  • to show up and find joy, 
  • to show up and connect meaningfully, 
  • to show up and be fully alive.
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.  You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt quote.  Poster by Bergen and Assocaites Cousenlling in Wnnipg

How to extinguish the fear:

1. Show up and be prepared to be underwhelmed (even though you won't feel like it beforehand and even though you will want to run away from the frightening experience as fast as your legs can go). Think of other times you were frightened, persevered, and made it through. Showing up generally pays off.

2. I strive for excellence, but I don't rest my value or as a human being on the outcome. My family and friends love me regardless of any interview on radio. The quality of the radio interview does not determine my worth. I had to remind myself of that often in the early weeks. 

3. I take deep breaths from my belly. I do Amy Cuddy's power posture in the car on the way over and sitting in the green room. I work to physiologically relax my body as I have talked with clients about for years (gosh darn it, it's not easy to take one's own medicine!)

4. I went in ridiculously over prepared with my notes. I was kind and compassionate to myself by asking myself…what can I do to make this marginally less terrifying? How can I be compassionate towards myself to make this do-able from a place of kindness (rather than teeth-gritting-forcing-it-no-matter-what) I read those notes the night before and the morning of, and right before the interview. (for as long as I needed to…I don't anymore--because I don't need to do that to be kind to myself at this point)

5. I remembered that it is ok to feel fear and be brave, to be terrified and courageous in the very same moment. I don't need to wait until the fear is gone to be able to do this (and funny how we often expect ourselves not to be afraid at all to feel good about our ability to do it, eh?) Courage is a huge value that I cherish.

Courage helps us to fully engage with our lives

and, drum roll please, to no regular reader's surprise:

6. We are wired for connection, and as Judith Light said in a recent interview: Listen to the people who love you. Trust them. 

Rely and trust the belief of people who love you more than your own belief in you (because when you are frightened you can't particularly trusting your own judgement of yourself). 

Share your fear with someone you trust--because when your fears are brought out of the darkness into the light, they begin to lose their power. 

Let them remind you that fear doesn't mean you're crazy, it means you're human. They might tell you a fear or two of your own.

For months, on Thursdays at 1:30, I would start to pace and flap my hands a little and regret my decision to do this radio thing aloud with Melanie, our client care manager. She would chuckle and remind me how I "knew" each week that I couldn't do this, and that I lived to tell the tale each week. She wouldn't ridicule or scold me…she just "held" my fear lightly and safely, reassuring and reminding.

Get their support before the scary thing, and call 'em right after. They can remind you after that you were brave, that you are loved, and that you're OK.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity Dahlia has given me to chat with her regularly. It's been great to get to know her, to be able to speak about topics that concern all of us as seek to have better connections in our lives. The opportunity to get to challenge a huge personal fear of mine and to learn that fear can be conquered is something I will always treasure.

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Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

October 21, 2014

With Dahlia Kurtz today on CJOB…the ups and downs of family gatherings…preparing for the alliances, the rivalries and the pressure...

Giving another person the gift of "I can do it!!" by being a long-suffering TWOster…a video that you'll remember all day long. important emotion. How to develop it, repair it and destroy it..

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