Archives for April 2006

Changing minds

I recently had a client who was determined to change his wife’s mind about something that he disagreed with. He was frustrated and upset that she wouldn’t “listen to reason.” He had explained to her how ridiculous her point of view was. He had told her that her thoughts and beliefs defied logic. Somehow, all of that had failed to convince her.

How is it that people change their minds?

Interestingly enough, the answer is embedded in the question. People, over time, develop thought and beliefs that are based on their experience, knowledge, and interactions with others. Once formed, those thoughts and beliefs become part of the person. They help him or her define who he/she is. As long as those thoughts and beliefs enable him/her to go about life in a reasonably good way, they remain unquestioned and firm.

However, when these thoughts and beliefs are challenged or questioned, a person must then either examine them or defend them. For most people, these thoughts and beliefs are so much part of them that questioning them would require a major internal reorganization. So what they do is to defend them. If the person came to these thoughts and beliefs in a reasoned way, then he/she will have a logical argument or facts to back up his/her point of view. If they were formed because of experiences, then he/she may have personal examples he/she can cite that make the thoughts and beliefs seem valid and reasonable.

However, if, upon examination, the person finds that his/her facts were wrong or the conclusions he/she drew were not well founded, then he or she can change his/her mind.

And therein lies the challenge. Because when we have formulated thoughts and beliefs that have become part of ourselves, it is very hard to give them up, even when we may understand that they are not well thought out or valid any longer. Coming to a different point requires quite literally, a change of mind. All of the neural pathways that we have been reinforcing for a long period of time now need to be changed. Now, A no longer leads to B, it leads to C, and that is difficult to hold onto when it has led to B for so long.

In many cases people really resist change. They say things like “that’s the way I am” and “I have always disliked (fill in the blank) and I always will” and despite facts to the contrary, they will maintain their old thoughts and beliefs.

For people who like to influence others, it is important to know a few things:

1. Change of thoughts and beliefs takes time. People do not change overnight and certainly not as the result of one discussion, no matter how hot and heavy. You can wear someone down, but that doesn’t mean you’ve changed his/her mind. Change is a process that goes on internally and pushing from the outside does not hurry the inside.

2. The more one badgers the other, the less likely the other is to consider the facts and arguments on the other side. When badgered and nagged, people generally will try all the harder to hold onto what they believe. Generally it will cause the other to solidify his/her opposition to the new idea. At that point it becomes a struggle for his/her identity and integrity as a person.

3. Arguing beyond a certain point may yield what looks like victory, but in the end, the other will either return to opposition later or passive aggressively oppose the other side.

How to be effective:

Trust that the other person is a healthy, intelligent person and that he/she is capable of thinking for him/herself and that if he/she is given information, he/she will examine it and decide what to do with it.

Give the person the time and space to consider things. Understand that relationships are not about how wins and who loses, who converts who to their point of view. Relationships are about mutual respect, so be respectful.

Be patient.

And most of all, understand that you yourself might sometimes need to rethink your own thoughts and beliefs.

Secrets of the Universe Revealed– Teflon Calories

There are lots of things that are true that most people don’t know. If you are like most people, then you have come to the right place because this is the first of several (don’t ask me how many; I have no idea) pieces on secrets of the universe.

Before I go further, I must put in a slight disclaimer: For years I have had clients come to me with all sorts of problems. What many of them reported to me was that there were things I said that helped them. Some of the things I said were truths. Others were thoughts that help people see things in a new way that perhaps is more entertaining, less toxic, and allows for more options. That is the intent of this piece and those that follow. If you take this seriously as diet advice, well, you may need more help than I can give over the computer.

And now to the topic of the day: Teflon calories

As you well know, when a woman eats, she adds calories. These calories conspire to conglomerate on her waist, midriff, stomach and other mentionable and unmentionable areas. Many women (myself included) don’t even need to eat for these calories to gain a foothold. Just the smell can add calories. Walking by a pizza place can make me gain a pound. Walking past any place that makes French fries can yield two pounds. Looking in a bakery window one time cost me five pounds.

However, all is not bleak. There are times when calories become Teflon. No matter how much they may want to stick, they keep falling off. Here are some of those times:

1. You child’s/grandchild’s birthday— It is well-known that birthday cake of a child or grandchild always contains calories that are Teflon for the mother or grandmother. It has to do with a very complicated genetic effect caused by the combination of the child’s blowing out of the candles (let’s not talk about what that does to the cake for the rest of the people) and the mother/grandmother’s DNA. Take it from me. I am related to a very famous geneticist and I am certain she will vouch for me.

2. Food that doesn’t taste good — If you are as polite (or obsessed with food) as I am, you may sometimes eat something that doesn’t taste good. It almost tastes good, but after you eat it, you realize that it didn’t and it really wasn’t worth the calories. Well, I have good news for you: if it didn’t taste good, the calories don’t stick.

3. Food you eat when you are being noble and need some reassurance – also called “comfort food,” usually carbs, the calories don’t stick when you are feeling as if you will take off someone’s head if you don’t have that ice cream right now or if you can’t write one more word of that paper without a serving of mashed potatoes. The bad thing is that the calories only become Teflon in true emergencies. The rest of the time they just pile on and laugh at you as you hope they are ignoring you.

I hope this has helped. Of course now you understand why I am particularly delighted with the birth of every new grandchild…

I didn’t know the gun was loaded

It happens all the time. For some people it’s things they say. They speak without thinking and then realize (or worse yet, don’t!) that they have said something to hurt or offend another. For them, it’s sometimes “open mouth, engage foot.” For others, it’s not just a remark, but an entire conversation that they suddenly realize could have been thought of as hurtful or that causes the other person to reduce contact or react angrily.

People can err on both sides of the communication spectrum. They can be so very careful of what they say that it is almost impossible to engage them in a real conversation. They are worried that what they say may be taken the wrong way or may not be something that people would generally agree with. On the other side is the person who just talks without giving any thought to what he or she is saying. Both of these approaches are problematic. But both are attempts that people make to solve the same problem.

And the problem is this: how do I express myself—my thoughts, opinions, experiences without making others uncomfortable or worse yet, oppositional to me. For people on the quiet end of the spectrum, their solution is to just remain silent a good deal of the time. Abraham Lincoln said “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” These people must be drawn out and often what they have to say is worthwhile hearing because they have taken the time to think things out. When they remain silent, they may be feeling emotions that have no outlet and then they can build resentments, anger, and fears that could be alleviated by a simple exchange of words.

On the other side of the spectrum, people decide, “it’s too much trouble to worry about how people will react. I will just “tell it like it is” and if they don’t like it, well, tough.” So some of these people will talk even before a fully formulated thought is present, making it up as they go along. If they are bright and talented, they can often get away with it, but if they aren’t, well, sometimes people will just stop listening.

All of us err in both directions from time to time, but of course the middle road would be the desirable one. A person should think before he or she speaks. His words should be chosen so as to convey the meaning he or she intends, and he or she should think about the person who is receiving the message and whether the message will in any way hurt or offend the other. If so, then rewording or rethinking the utterance might be advisable.

In Jewish life we have the concept of shemirat halashon, watching or guarding one’s tongue. It’s not such a bad idea.

Jumping in with both feet

When one of my sons was in nursery school, the teacher came up with an original idea for a mother’s day gift. She filled several dishpans with paint and she asked the four year olds to take off their shoes and socks and then step into a dishpan so that with their paint covered feet they could make footprints on the large pieces of paper she had laid out on the ground. As she recounted the experience to me later that day, one by one the children refused to step into the dishpans. They thought they would get their feet dirty. They thought their mother would be angry. They thought the feel of paint on their feet would be yucky. They simply refused. Until she came to my son. She told me that when it came his turn, he quite literally jumped in with both feet.

Well, to tell the truth, he was always that sort of child. He never did anything halfway. When he was angry, he was angry, and when he was happy, his little face glowed. When he was being sneaky, it was as if his ears grew into little points. The child was simply fully present in his own life. There was no reserve, no holding back, and although sometimes his enthusiasm overwhelmed me, he seemed to make the most of every experience.

I thought of him as I have been watching our newest family member make his transition into the family. Two years ago, our older daughter’s husband came into the family in such a natural way, that it almost seems as if he has always been one of us. He put time and energy into getting to know our daughter’s children and establishing a close relationship with each one. He is loved and respected by all of his new extended family. Since then, five new babies have been born! It must have been daunting for our new son-in-law to suddenly be faced with 21 nieces and nephews! I can’t even imagine how he will learn all of the names. But, to my delight, he has jumped in with both feet– talking with, playing with, and spending time with the children, really getting to know them. At the wedding, many of the nieces and nephews sang a song to their “Aunt Leah” that included a welcome to “Uncle Yaakov.” All of us are happy to welcome him to the family!

(note: for those interested in seeing the family, most of us are on a picture associated with an earlier entry “The Wedding.” For more family pictures, you can go to:

What Jugglers Know

I never knew that when my daughter got married I would be gaining not just a son-in-law but a glimpse into a whole new world, the world of juggling.

This being the middle of Passover (Chol HaMoed), Israel is having its annual juggling convention at a lovely place called Gan HaShlosha (Sachne). It is a beautiful park with pools of water and waterfalls up in the north of the country not far from Bet Shean.

When I drove the young couple to the convention, I hadn’t expected to see anything but people juggling. When I got there, I was overcome by the variety of people attending—from all walks of life—all sizes, shapes, colors, dressed in every possible type of garb one could imagine.

Here is what I saw: These people were friendly, kind, helpful to each other, accepting, open, and enjoying themselves. It seems to me that they have found through their avocation, some of the secrets of living a good life. Some of the things they know are:

1. When your neighbor drops something, help him pick it up, just as he will pick up when you drop
2. Pay attention to where you throw things.
3. Keeping a lot going at a time requires concentration.
4. Handling a lot of things at once sometimes makes you look awkward.
5. Accomplishing difficult things takes lots and lots of practice.
6. You can always learn more.
7. It is legitimate to enjoy life.

I left the jugglers in a teeming rain by the pools of water and waterfalls, surrounded by bougainvillea and lush trees and grass and through the pouring rain there was the sound of laughter and the beauty of joy.

Happy Pesach!

I was thinking the other day about how nice computers are. They really serve so many purposes. They keep us in touch with people who are far away. They bring us news and information on demand, and they help us to organize things in our life.

However, after today, I am not so sure. Actually, I first became overwhelmed with the possibilities when I returned from China with my 1100 pictures and endeavored to put them in some logical order to show to others. Fortunately, the pictures were taken in order and therefore the digital camera numbered them consecutively, but when one of my children said, “Why don’t you just pick out 100 of the best?” I was not able to do it.

So today I brought home the pictures and CDs of my daughter’s wedding. In addition to the several hundred pictures taken by a friend of the family, we now have an additional 288 pictures. Well, first I had to copy the CDs. Then I had to take each file, open it, and then copy and paste all of the pictures onto my desktop computer. Once all of that was done, I had to download all of the pictures onto my laptop through the LAN. And now I really have to organize the pictures which for some reason are NOT in chronological order! Of course that means interspersing them with the other pictures of the wedding that we already have. I think it was easier when we brought home a stack of photos from the drugstore. We’d look through them and then throw them in a drawer. With film, we would limit the number of pictures we’d take. But digital cameras have made a virtue of excess.

Of course the pictures are beautiful. Everyone looks beautiful and everyone looks happy.

And now I return to the real world… where tomorrow is the day.

Every year as I gear up for Pesach, there is a sequence I follow. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that tomorrow is the day that the fridge gets relined, the perishable items get bought, the dishes all go into the dishwasher for storage for the duration of the holiday, the counters and shelves get lined, the toaster and blender get exiled, and finally finally the counters get covered.

Then the Passover dishes will emerge and a certain lightness will enter my heart as the joy of the holiday supersedes all of the work that was necessary to prepare for it. And then will come the pleasure of cooking and baking and making the house look pretty for the guests. I happily anticipate the smiling faces who will join us this year: three of our children, their spouses, seven of the grandchildren, and my sister. A happy holiday to all!

May they continue

I am sitting here and wondering what will come out of my head as the white screen challenges me.

I suppose after weeks of such intense emotional experiences, sitting in my living room and listening to classical music and talking to my sister who is visiting from Philadelphia doesn’t qualify as high drama.

But isn’t that really what life is? Real life is made of moments of intense feeling and longer periods of just living. Life, if we are lucky, remains precious, even when it is as quiet and subdued as a Friday afternoon listening to music and enjoying the presence of people I love and thinking about the first roses blooming outside and the beginnings of the blossoms of the pomegranate tree and the first little plums on the plum tree that was in bloom only a couple of weeks ago. Life can be vastly satisfying when I realize that my children are healthy and happy and doing productive things. Life is beautiful when I think of all of the little growing Michelsons and Ariks and Inbars and how they add so much happiness to my world.

Sometimes I see clients who are living in their private torture chambers. They are racked with fear or emotional pain or terrible memories or anger or desire for revenge. I long to take them for a walk on my path. I want to show them that the world is a place with wonderful possibilities, with unlimited beauty, with opportunities for caring and kindness and love. I want them to be able to release the chains and to knock down the walls they have built around themselves and to appreciate the beauty of the breeze rustling the tree branches, moving the geraniums to wave from the window, to see the beauty of a smile, to feel the warmth of a caress.

The mundane itself is very special. It is the time we get to refuel to have the energy for all of our blessings. May they continue!

Family happy-nings

The week of rejoicing is over. What a week it was!

In the midst of all of the excitement over our younger daughter’s wedding, (you can read it from Leah’s point of view on ) we had a double celebration over shabbat when along with the family sheva brachot, which our whole family attended, we celebrated the naming of our daughter’s new baby, Naomi Hallel. You can read about her birth at Rachel’s blog

One of our sons reminded us that we are told not to impose one happy occasion upon another, so that one would not schedule a double wedding or two other happy occasions for the same day, however, he said, sometimes, they schedule themselves. As the father of two sets of twins, he knew what that was like as his blessings often come in twos. However, he said that when the happy occasions schedule themselves together, we gratefully celebrate them together. He wished us all many more instances of shared happy occasions.

And now to the Passover cleaning!