Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King

How do we honor great persons?

When I began my path to be a medical doctor, I asked myself, “Why I am doing this?” The cliché answer, “I want to help people,” entered my mind. I knew this cliché couldn’t cut it. I felt like a sailer about to set off on a 10-year journey without a sail.

I decided to go camping and meditate on the question. Along with my sleeping bag and tent, I brought along a copy of Bodhisattva Archetypes, a very informative text, which describes the psychology of bodhisattva practice, and uses modern figures like Dr. Martin Luther King as exemplars of bodhisattva ideals.

This connection between the ancient and the modern, the spiritual and the secular, was an important existential bridge for me. For bodhisattvas, the path was the goal, and achievements and meaning arose naturally when no longer sought. I realized then that a better question to ask myself was, “Why am I not doing this?”

I left my short retreat with new insights and purpose. Even though I lacked the perfection and discipline of a bodhisattva, I cultivated the aspiration to walk in the large footsteps of the great bodhisattvas of my time like Dr. Martin Luther King. This is the path I continue to walk today.

So, how do we honor great persons? We honor them by trying to live up to their ideals and building lives of purpose and meaning that bring benefit to everyone we meet. In short, not to be cliché, “helping people.” 🙂

Happy MLK Day!

Martin Luther King Jr. speaks Jan. 1, 1960, in Washington, D.C.

Help Others Shine

One of the great paradoxes of leadership and success is that the most accomplished people are often the most generous, humble, and serving. Of course, some climb to the top with their cleats buried in the backs of others, but their rise is often like their fall–quick and momentous.

Every day, we are given opportunities to help others shine. In the hustle and bustle of our daily routines, it is easy to lose sight of the profound effect our words and actions have on others. Remaining mindful and present ensures we don’t lose ourselves in self-serving pursuits that ultimately bring us more harm than good.

Simple Steps To Make Others Shine:

  1. Consider each human interaction as an opportunity to bring benefit to oneself and others. Tell yourself, “This is a great opportunity for self-improvement and to help others. Let me make the best of it.”
  2. Listen… Listen some more. 🙂
  3. Regardless of your thoughts, emotions, feelings–be supportive and respectful. Try to lead with empathy and ask yourself, “If our roles were reversed, how would I like to be treated?”
  4. Provide support. Offer advice only when solicited. Ask yourself, “Is there something I can do to empower or elevate this person?”
  5. Act. This can take many forms. Try to be as generous with your power and resources as much as possible. This elevates everyone.

One may ask if this process would be different for a difficult person/situation. In a majority of cases, the answer is ‘no.’ It is possible to consider all difficult people and situations as blessings. Think to yourself, “This difficult person/situation is an opportunity to learn to be more supportive and respectful.” Consider all people, good or bad, as teachers. Good people teach us how to be better. Bad people also teach us how to be better. Ask yourself, “Do I want to emulate this person?”

Our potential for good is the envy of human history. At what other time have such freedoms existed? Not ever. If we choose to hoard the benefits of our accomplishments, they will grow tarnished and forgotten, like old trophies collecting dust on a shelf or the jewels buried with a dead king. Legacies without others become memories, and all memories are ultimately forgotten.

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The Psychology of Money: The Four “Money-Scripts”

What is your relationship with money? Are you confident with money or is a consummate source of anxiety and doubt? Have you ever considered where your relationship with money developed and whether other people share your beliefs?

It may surprise you to know that psychology has tried to answer these questions. Father and son research team, Dr.’s Ted and Brad Klontz introduced the term money-scripts to describe money “beliefs” and “skills,” learned in childhood and carried into adulthood, which are often unconscious and influence financial behaviors.

In 2015, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Brad Klontz during a child psychiatry elective on the island of Kauai. There, he was kind enough to give me a copy of his book, Mind Over Money, and introduce me to the concept of the four money-scripts.

The Four Money Scripts:

  1. Money Avoidance: Individuals with this script often believe that they don’t deserve money or that wealth is bad or evil. According to Klontz et al., money avoiders experience fear, disgust, and anxiety around money control. They may unconsciously sabotage their financial success by avoiding opportunities and/or giving money away. This is consistent with research showing that money avoiders have lower levels of net-worth and income. High levels of money avoidance lead to disordered money behaviors like excessive risk aversion or financial denial/rejection.
  2. Money Worship: Individuals with this script believe more money is the answer to life’s problems. These individuals often believe “financial windfalls” will lead to lasting happiness. Contrary to this belief, evidence suggests there is no linear correlation between wealth and happiness above the middle-income range, and that financial windfalls may increase distrust and depression. I have personally witnessed this in my psychiatric practice in a patient who received an unexpected inheritance. High levels of money worship can lead to disordered money behaviors like hoarding, excessive risk-taking and/or gambling, overspending and/or compulsive buying, and overwork.
  3. Money Status: Individuals with this script believe “net-worth is self-worth.” These individuals believe that increasing their socio-economic status (SES) will improve their wellbeing; their insecurities around money lead them to be materialistic and driven by a desire to have more than others. High levels of money status can lead to disordered money behaviors like excessive risk-taking or spending in an effort to gain wealth to increase (SES). Evidence suggests that being overly materialistic and concerned with wealth attainment and success actually causes less wellbeing. Appearance, it seems, isn’t everything.
  4. Money Vigilance: Individuals with this script see money as a source of “shame” and “secrecy.” Similar to those with money avoidance, money and the topic of anxiety is a source of anxiety. Individuals with money vigilance are less likely to be financially educated and thus ill-prepared for financial decisions that require planning like retirement. High levels of money vigilance can lead to disordered money behaviors like extreme frugality and poor financial planning. Even though they may have money, money vigilant persons may not be able to enjoy it.

Learning about money scripts is the first step into understanding your relationship with money. Performing a Money Script Inventory-II (KMSI-II) may provide you valuable insights into your money beliefs, and help you take the first step toward true financial wellness.

References:

Klontz, B., Britt, S. L., Mentzer, J., & Klontz, T. (2011). Money beliefs and financial behaviors: Development of the Klontz Money Script InventoryJournal of Financial Therapy2(1), 1-22.

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How Doubt Destroys Your Financial Future

Think for a moment about a big financial opportunity you missed. There’s a good chance that doubt played a role. Whether you’re a stock trader, a real estate investor, or a comic collector, all of us remember deal(s) that slipped through our fingers due to doubt.

For example, I have bought, sold, and traded vintage comic books since the 1990s. Over this period, I’ve watched the market skyrocket. Last year, I had the opportunity to purchase a 1st Print copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 for $5000. Before you gasp too loudly at the price, this was a high-grade certified copy (one of the best). The moment I saw the price, I knew the book was priced to sell fast, but I hummed… and I hawed… and three days later when I decided to buy the book it was gone. The following year, the same (or similar) copy sold for $30,000 at auction. Ugh!

Learning to overcome doubt is essential for those of us who want to build wealth and call ourselves true investors. Listed below are a few steps to help you never miss another winning deal again.

  1. Look! Deals are everywhere for those who are looking. Let lost deals of the past motivate rather than paralyze you. Tell yourself, “This time when I find a deal, I’m not going to miss it.”
  2. Analyze! Not every deal that looks good is good. Make sure that diamond in the rough is not a cubic zirconia in disguise. Do your homework, but do it fast, and don’t suffer “paralysis on analysis!”
  3. Act! Once you found a deal and confirmed it’s good, act! This is where the shadow of doubt will often whisper in your ear. Don’t listen! Remind yourself of past deals lost due to doubt, and review your analysis. If everything looks good, there is nothing to doubt but doubt itself.

2021 is sure to be full of deals and opportunities. Next time you meet a deal on the road of life, slow down and don’t pass it by.

Why the Wise Speak Few Words

In my short life, I’ve had an opportunity to make an ass of myself on more than one occasion. Whether I was trying to be witty or serious, the responses I received clearly communicated the disappointment of the receiving party. The outcomes of such encounters were rarely favorable in terms of process or product.

As I have become a more adept student of human behavior (a.k.a. getting older, haha!), I’ve learned that the wise may not directly communicate their disappointment in regular discourse. These individuals of heavenly patience often speak few words if any and may even agree with us! Let me use an example to illustrate.

When I was in my early 20s, I took an Indian Art and Architecture class audited by a local psychiatrist. At some point, I introduced myself and said something like, “Psychiatry. Hmm. That’s interesting. Wasn’t Freud a cocaine addict? Nobody really believes in psychiatry anymore do they?” (Wow! Can you say dumpster fire…) Aside from the irony that I became a psychiatrist, this psychiatrist could have lit me up. Instead, he politely smiled and said, “Many people don’t believe in psychiatry.”

At the time, I felt satisfied with both my questions (really statements hidden behind questions) and the psychiatrist’s response. In actuality I’d received a wise man’s smack down. So, why was the psychiatrist’s response so wise?

  1. The psychiatrist did not respond with emotion. If he got angry, the psychiatrist didn’t show it. When we show strong emotion, people respond in kind. This is a significant problem in regular discourse that prevents compromise and opportunities for learning.
  2. The psychiatrist did not directly challenge my ignorance. My training has taught me that insight can be learned but never given. All of us have blind spots that need to be filled with knowledge and experience. Words cannot fill this void.
  3. The psychiatrist met me where I was at. Put bluntly, I was a young (smart but dumb) college student with little knowledge of the outside world. I believe the psychiatrist recognized this smart-dumb dichotomy in me. Perhaps I reminded him of a younger, ignorant version of himself? I will never know.
  4. The psychiatrist was kind. Compassion is a tool of the wise. If they challenge us, they often do so indirectly through questions. This is how the wise help us see things in a different way and lay the seeds of lasting change.

May we all be wise!

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Building a Goal Directed Personality

Our personalities have a big role in determining our success. Each of us has positive and negative personality traits that can affect our goals. The problem with personality traits is that they are enduring patterns of thinking or behavior that are sometimes out of our own awareness. In psychiatry we call this awareness, insight. Gaining insight requires us to trust someone to tell us what we can’t see within ourselves. This can be challenging, especially if your personality makes you fearful and distrusting. As with anything in life, the most successful people are open and willing to change and adapt to life’s challenges. If your goal is to create the optimal personality for success, then you’re in the right place.

Before we move forward, you may like to read my posts on how our personalities impact our goals and the 5-Factor Model of Personality, and take the Big 5 Personality Test.

As seen in the Trull and Thomas image below, the 5 main personality domains are neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. For the sake of this discussion, let us think an optimal goal directed personality as a special potion containing a collection of traits from these domains. Finding the right recipe is key, and may take some honest reflection and work.

The Goal Directed Personality:

Neuroticism: Neuroticism is our tendency to experience negative emotions. High neuroticism can lead to extremes of fear and doubt, which are counterproductive to success. Individuals with high levels of neuroticism are also more likely to experience mood illnesses like depression and anxiety. Mastering neuroticism means becoming a master of failure itself. Successful people often remark that they fail much more than they succeed but they keep trying again and again. If you are the type of person who wallows in their failures, remember that there is no success without failure, and fear is the mind killer. Be fearless!

Extraversion: Extraversion is our tendency to be engaged with the external world. Extraversion is often a very important ingredient for success because all of us must interact with other human beings. The optimal amount of extraversion may vary by position; however, at a minimum all successful extraverts are present: they give their environments and those in them their full attention. This quality of the extravert is highly attractive to others. Be here and now!

Openness: Openness is the tendency to be creative, flexible, curious, and open to new experiences. Openness is an essential part of success. Most great artists and corporate billionaires (I bet you never thought those two would go together) are highly creative. Success in openness requires some level of grounding. For example, all of us know people with big dreams but few successes. This is an example of a lack of goal setting and planning. As I have said before, a goal without a plan is just a wish, and few wishes come true. Be daring and prudent!

Agreeableness: Agreeableness is the tendency to get along with others. It is highly correlated with the concept of civility, which I have discussed in a previous post. Agreeableness and civility are essential components for success. Research shows that our behavior has a significant impact on the health and work efficiency of those around us. Make a conscious effort to be gracious and accommodating everyday. When in doubt ask, “How may I help you?”

Conscientiousness: Conscientiousness is the tendency to control and regulate our impulses and desires. To be successful often requires careful planning and delaying gratification. To be successful, conscientiousness people must avoid what is called “paralysis of analysis.” This is where planning and analysis is done but the person has a hard time acting. For example, Bill Gates wouldn’t be Bill Gates if he didn’t seize the opportunity to buy the windows operating system and then sell it to IBM. As the great Ramblin’ Jack Elliott once said to me, “Take it Easy, But Take It!”

Image Credit: Trull and Thomas “Dimensional models of personality: the five-factor model and the DSM-5.”

Post References:

Trull, Timothy J., and Thomas A. Widiger. “Dimensional models of personality: the five-factor model and the DSM-5.” Dialogues in clinical neuroscience 15.2 (2013): 135. doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2013.15.2/ttrull

The Five-Factor Model of Personality

Personality is an enduring pattern of thinking, feeling, or reacting that define a person. In my last post, I discuss how our personalities impact our goals.

Personalities are difficult to change because they are like the operating system of the brain. As with any system, personality can be broken down into interdependent domains. Understanding these domains and discovering our individual weaknesses within them is a big first step to making changes that can impact our goals.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Ed. (DSM-V) included a 5-factor model for defining personality based on common trait terms found within different languages. The idea here is that personality is encoded in language, which itself has grown and transformed over thousands of years. Those traits that have the most synonyms and levels of gradation/detail across languages are the basis of the 5-factor model.

The 5-Factor Model recognizes the most common personality traits as Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness (see image below). As with many things in life, having too much or too little of a thing is not good. This is also true of personality traits. For example, being agreeable and conscientious in the workplace is a good thing; however, if you are too agreeable and conscientious you may become a submissive workaholic! Haha! (I’m laughing at myself)

If you want to gain some deeper insight into your personality take the Big Five Personality Test.

In my next post, I will discuss how to build a Goal Directed Personality using the 5-Factor Model as a guide.

Image Credit: Trull and Thomas “Dimensional models of personality: the five-factor model and the DSM-5.”

Article References:

Trull, Timothy J., and Thomas A. Widiger. “Dimensional models of personality: the five-factor model and the DSM-5.” Dialogues in clinical neuroscience 15.2 (2013): 135. doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2013.15.2/ttrull

How Our Personality Impacts Our Goals

Recently, I was asked to give a lecture on personality disorders to a group of non-mental health professionals. This got me thinking about the topic of personality itself and how it influences so many of our ambitions and goals. Our personalities can open or close doors. For example, I’ve worked with brilliant physicians who have been passed up on promotions because of their terrible interpersonal skills. This lack of tact stems from personality.

So, what is personality? “Personality is an enduring pattern of thinking, feeling, or reacting that define a person.” To use the analogy of a computer, our brain is our hardware, our knowledge is our software, and our personality is our operating system. Similar to a computer, changing the software (knowledge, experience) is easier than swapping-out the operating system, which is the “who” in “you.” This is why so many people have a difficult time changing themselves. Even with a strong effort, personality is “enduring,” and re-writing personality is a slow, often painstaking, process.

One of the most important advances of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Ed. (DSM-V) was the inclusion of a 5-factor model for defining personality. These domains were based on empirical evidence and included extraversion (versus introversion), agreeableness (versus antagonism), conscientiousness (or constraint), emotional instability (or neuroticism), and intellect (unconventionality or openness). 

The 5-factor model is important because it provides us a framework for evaluating our own personalities and making changes. As one can imagine, domains like extraversion and agreeableness could have a significant impact on our goals. Remember, we see our personalities through the lens of our own personality. So, if we are trying to change our personality, the best judge of our progress is someone we respect and not ourselves.

In the next post, we break down the 5-factor model of personality, and introduce the topic of personality disorders.

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How Social Media Companies Can Stamp Out Hate Speech and Misinformation

Hate speech and misinformation have flooded the internet over the past four years. Political threats have prevented many tech companies from acting even though a majority of citizens support censoring misinformation and hate speech. The recent capital hill riots show us the powerful impact social media platforms play in turning hate speech into criminal acts of violence.

This must stop!

Free speech does not imply you are allowed to say anything. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not protect the following forms of speech:

  • Obscenity
  • Fighting words
  • Defamation (including libel and slander)
  • Child pornography
  • Perjury
  • Blackmail
  • Incitement to imminent lawless action
  • True threats
  • Solicitations to commit crimes

This kind of speech is not free, nor is it equal; it has no place in the public discourse, and its proponents should be silenced. This is common sense, but common sense is not common today. I know so many good people who are so wrapped up in conspiracy theories that listening to them makes my ears ring. When I dig for the evidence of their claims, the well is empty–there is no there, there.

Social media companies can do a lot to fix this problem. Until recently, political threats have prevented them from taking common sense approaches to stop the spread of hate speech and misinformation like blocking users who spread hate and disinformation (regardless of their social status) and removing (not just labeling) content that is misleading or fails an independent, non-partisan fact check.

Google and other major search engines can also do their part. None of us want companies alone controlling the flow of information. The use of independent, non-partisan fact checking organizations to provide reports to internet companies for the regulation of misleading and hateful content is a big step toward cleaning up civil discourse and relegating conspiracy theories and hate speech to where they belong–on the fringes.

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Choosing Value as a Skillful Means for Long Term Happiness

A skillful means is a short-cut to a goal. Happiness is something all of us seek, but it is often elusive and fleeting like a cloud passing over the sky.

Every human action, subconscious or conscious, direct or indirect, is done for happiness. The relationships we kindle, the food we eat, the entertainment we seek, the wealth we grow is all done for immediate or future gratification.

It’s ironic that with all this focus on happiness most people are unhappy. Why is this so?

Human unhappiness has many causes. The impermanent nature of our existence is a consummate and everlasting source of suffering. Another source of unhappiness is related to how we make decisions.

Choosing value is about making thoughtful decisions that have present and future benefit. Value is a compromise, and within this grand bargain are the fruits of lasting contentment.

Choices of Value have several characteristics:

  1. They have present and future benefit
  2. They do not lead to regret
  3. They are often good for others as well as oneself
  4. They create lasting contentment
  5. They represent a compromise
  6. They are not too extravagant or austere
  7. Their benefit outweighs their harm
  8. They often require delayed or restrained gratification

There are a series of questions that can help make choices of value.

1. Will I regret this choice? Many choices that bring immediate gratification fall into this category. If so, is there a similar choice that can be made with less regret?

2. Does this choice create a better future for me or not? Many bad financial choices leverage the future for the present. The most gratifying rewards are earned not bought.

3. Does this choice serve my inner values? Most of us seek to bring benefit to ourselves and others. The luxuries we enjoy are tempered with the knowledge that no material thing can bring us lasting contentment. Grace leads us and it is from this deeper source that we draw our strength and peace.

Leading with value has the potential to bring great benefit to ourselves and others. Value, like contentment, is contagious. That’s one thing none of us should be afraid of catching. 🙂

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