Comfort Zone and Self-Limiting Beliefs

Today’s kids are scheduled to the max, often having insufficient down-time to just sit and daydream. However, the advantage of having a diversity of early experiences means that they are getting exposure to skills and concepts that will feel familiar to them in future, similar experiences. This exposure will help them to have a broader comfort zone later in life.

I’m so grateful for the experiences I had as a child, even though our generation relied more on playing outside and unstructured time in general.   The experiences we did have generally revolved around my parents’ own interests and comfort zones. Where they had self-limiting beliefs probably resulted in less participation and exposure to us kids in those areas. As a result, we probably unconsciously mimic their familiarity, comfort and self-limiting beliefs.  In this manner, I think we pass self-limiting beliefs down through the generations.

For me, 2016 is the year of dismantling self-limiting beliefs. My current effort is in singing. I have no aspirations to perform or do anything specific other than to prove to myself that I can, indeed, carry a tune without the aid of heavy machinery or technology. When I told my dad about my project, he laughed and said, “none of us can sing.” I was a bit surprised to hear him say that given mom had once sang in a chorus, but that probably explains where my belief originated.

I can assure you that I’m no Pavarotti, but after only a few lessons I have developed enough confidence (or indifference) to sing around the house within earshot of my sweet husband. And, I’ll have you know, that I even sang for myself by recording and playing back a verse on my iPhone. This represents a real achievement on my part; in graduate school we were videotaped while giving a presentation and I was too chicken to ever watch it. Decades later, I still have not ever watched myself giving a presentation, despite feeling pretty confident in my presentation abilities.

Also, as I observe my progress on my self-limiting beliefs, starting with running, singing and next with acting, I feel that branching out has been getting easier each time. It didn’t hurt that my first singing lesson only involved my teacher, but we quickly added my BFF and now we’re working on singing a duet. The acting class may have a larger audience at the start, but that’s OK.   My general comfort zone is already wider and I’m less concerned about other peoples’ opinions than I once was. Besides, the definition of courage is doing what you’re afraid of, not necessarily what is dangerous or bad for you (or other people, in my case). And I decided long ago that I don’t ever want to make decisions around or limit myself because of fear. So fear, fear go away. Don’t ever come another day.


Creating magic (picture credit:

Taking the Fear Out of Self-Awareness

That inward journey is scary. You never know what you will find.  Will I like what I discover about myself?  Will I hate it?  Will I find that I’m fundamentally flawed and deficient if I go there?

Perhaps we can agree that even the most saintly heart on the planet experiences envy, greed, selfishness, aggression, hate and despair at one time or another.  We are human, after all, and being fraught with imperfection is a truth we all share.  Ignoring that fact is kind of like ignoring the fact that my teeth will rot (and will give new meaning to the phrase ‘dragon breath’) if I don’t brush them.  Sticking my head in the sand about what is universally true does not change that reality.  Similarly, accepting our imperfections will not magically make them worse either.

I argue that our imperfections are not a problem; they are, in fact, an opportunity for growth and improvement.  In addition, our imperfections make us beautifully human and relatable.  I was talking to a student recently who described a peer as ‘perfect.’  This perfect young lady was so intimidating, no one could imagine dating her.  How does she share her fears, insecurities and struggles when no one can imagine that she has any?  How do you share your fears and insecurities with someone that doesn’t have any?  How can you feel seen if no one can see you?  Distancing yourself from emotions is a recipe for emotional isolation.

Instead, I argue that we should we focus on our strengths instead of our imperfections.  Our imperfections are there.  We accept them.  But trying to fix our weaknesses feels defeating and counterproductive because it is.   In addition, what we may call our weaknesses are sometimes actually strengths that are being poorly used.

Identifying and optimizing use of our strengths helps us feel energized, successful and authentic.  We can also develop strengths we didn’t realize we had and expand our repertoire of skills.  Finally, we can use our dominant strengths to improve in the areas we’re not so strong.  In this way, we address our weaknesses without giving them power.

Yes, this is about power.  Our personal power.  By refusing to acknowledge or accept our personal truths, we give power to what we will not name or discuss.  By shedding light on our Voldemorts and managing them in a positive way, like Harry Potter we reclaim our power and ability to grow and change in ways we could not have imagined.

Now what’s so scary about that?

More Blind Spots – In An Accepting Way

I’m a recovering control freak.  And I’m proud of it.

Not of the control freak part.  Of the recovering part.

Just like alcoholism or any other mental health issue, control freak and perfectionism (oh yeah, I am a recovering perfectionist too) are things that we sometimes want to bury and pretend do not apply to us.  No sir.  That’s not me.  Why?  Because it’s too scary to go down deep and explore the source of those feelings and behaviors. On some level, we’re afraid of what we might find.

For me, I had to face a personal truth.  I believed that I would not get what I needed unless I was perfect and was in complete control of my environment.  Of course, both are a complete illusion, but I was under this self-induced spell.  The spell put me in a little reality bubble that was snug, safe and well-defined, and clearly did not include my deep-seated and unacknowledged fear.  That bubble also did not include the fact that everyone except me was aware of my control freak demon.

The thoughts that have the most power over us are the ones that we do not acknowledge, so I was subconsciously ruled by this fear.  Only when we bring our worst fears to light do they lose their power.  In the light of day, those fears assume their proper magnitude.  Much like the Wizard of Oz, when we pull back the curtain on our most basic and fearful assumptions can we see them for what they really are:  a farce.

I’m not saying that I always get what I need and I never inappropriately predict when I’ll be let down.  I’m simply saying that I do not have to create a self-fulfilling prophecy for myself that continues to feed and reinforce my worst fears.  It’s not the end of the world or a personal catastrophe if my worst fears come to be.

I’m also not saying this is an easy journey.  After so many decades of practicing an ingrained behavior, I had to re-examine all my usual habits and reactions in light of this grey-colored lens with which I viewed myself and my world. I had to re-engineer my habits and reactions now that my lens was neutral, or even rose-tinted.  Still, despite all this self-knowledge and progress, there are days I can’t help but go there.

Recently I did a self-assessment exercise about my personality style.  I came up “analyzer” – you know – thoughtful and think before I speak.  Part of the exercise is to invite others to comment about you, and one reviewer said I was a “driver”.  On good days: goal and task oriented, visionary and high expectations of self and others.  On bad days: argumentative, fears losing control and judgmental.

There’s that control freak again.

I don’t view these results as a personal failure.  Rather, these results reflect my continuing journey to care for that scared inner me that still allows myself to go there on bad days.  In fact, I’m pretty proud of myself in that when I saw the feedback, I laughed.  Not because the results were ridiculous, but because I knew they were true.  And that I was completely, 100% ok with that.   No defensiveness, no anger, no fear.  To me, that’s a sort of a milestone, that my better angels are starting to prevail over my inner devil.  Age definitely has some advantages.

Loving Versus Being Loved – A Big Difference

Showing and receiving love.  Photo credit:

Showing and receiving love. Photo credit:

Though I feel the VIA character strength construct, available for free at, will be hard to sell to people at work (scientists being told their number one strength is forgiveness?) oddly I believe that my strength of capacity to love and be loved is the most important strength I exhibit at work and home alike.

I have discovered that my passion is for helping others to develop on a personal and professional level.  Being in touch with the love strength not only motivates me to do this, but also intensifies the level and manner in which I approach training and development.  The more in tune I am with this strength, the more I feel the work is meaningful, productive, successful and generates a genuine bond between us.   The love strength also motivates me to give generously of my time and talent.  Humanity and every single member of the human race are a beautiful, precious things and should be nurtured with all of our ability.   In other words, cultivating the ability to love in my development work with others drives my passion, which I consider my calling.

Though the capacity to love has been easier for me to access, I often have difficulty being on the receiving end of love, or letting others take care of me.  I have always been the caretaker, in charge, competent and independent.  To allow myself to ask for help, support, or a listening ear, can be difficult for me.   For years I have held the shadow belief that I will not get what I need from others, so I have taught myself to not ask for or show others what I need.  Though I have improved a great deal in this area, this tendency still lingers especially in certain situations.   I am also not skilled at expressing my needs to others, including when to know when I should express my needs or remain silent.  Though I usually have little difficulty formulating my thoughts verbally, asking for what I need sometimes leaves me tongue-tied.

However, I have learned when I am accepting of my need to receive love and the need or desire of someone else to show love to me, I feel that bond grow even more if I embrace that reciprocity.   Like with maximizing the efficacy of any strength or skill, improving my capacity to be loved has required a conscious effort and practice.  Fortunately, I have many safe testing grounds in my life now to hopefully enable my growth in this area, and allow me to fill in the other half of this very important strength.


By:  Guest blogger, Rahmel (Ray)mond Reeves (Age 15)

Fear. What is fear? Is it a feeling, thought or decision? Where does it come from? Does it come when you think about your next report card, or does it comes when you think about love? Many fears come and go but the main topic that scares me the most is if I’ll lose love.  Love is what allows us to be stronger and motivate us to do better, if you lose love, you lose hope. All your potential and character would cease to be shown because without love there’s hate. Hate is pain, stress, guilt, depression, suicide, murder, drug overdose, and darkness. In the world we live in all you hear about is hate, but you never hear about love. This world is hurting because the people on it can’t love one another. No one cares enough to give love. Why can’t a person come to school without worrying about what someone will say, why can’t you walk from the store at night with a hood, Arizona, and skittles without being accused as a threat. Why can’t you change something without being threatened? This world is filled with hate and covered with hope. The only thing that keeps a single mother that lost her job and is getting evicted in two day , who also has a blood clog in her chest , that the doctors said wouldn’t  let her live more than a week, moving with her head up. Hope is what keeps a homeless man from getting weaker, even though his last job told him he wouldn’t be able to work because he’s disabled and stupid. Hope is what keeps your 15 year old son from killing himself because the world said he was different and wouldn’t amount to anything, and made him feel like the world was better without him, because no one understood him, no one knew that his father left him when he was younger, no one knew he got teased because of his weight, no one knew he use to live in a basement and eat stolen noodle mixed with stuffing just so he wouldn’t be hungry, no one knew that kids at school would call him names and try to put him down, no one knew he loved and cared for so many people but couldn’t find love for himself, no one ever knows , because they’re blinded by hate, But because of hope there’s change, motivation, and love. So what is fear? Is it a feeling, thought, or decision? Where does it come from? Does it come when you think about your next report card or does it come when you think about love?

What if Courage Is a Muscle?

Out of shape

Out of shape

If courage is a muscle, would you want to strengthen it?  Is courage something that you use only when you have no other choice?  When you do need it, is it weak and flaccid, unable to do the job properly?

Maybe it’s not courage, but maybe it’s something else that you’re not exercising enough.   Humility, patience, advocacy, forgiveness, moderation, being present or acceptance?  We all have something we should work on, whether we admit it or not.

So if courage or virtue X were a muscle, how would you strengthen it?   The muscle analogy is not a bad one.  After all, we’re not born with strong and toned muscles.  Even if we were, if we did not use them regularly, they would get smaller and weaker with time, just like my abs right now.  When we want to get back in shape, it’s hard work.  It’s not easy.   It hurts.

Yep, that’s pretty much how it goes, right?

But we can do it.  It just takes practice and commitment.  We set aside time intentionally for our workouts and practice.  We commit to doing it in that time period and for the length of time required.  We mix it up, doing different types of exercises to work those muscles instead of the same type of repetitions every time.  We seek trainers or coaches if needed.  We stretch afterwards.  That muscle becomes more powerful, more resilient if injured, and just more effective in general when we make the effort to develop and grow them.

We don’t assume that we should just be able to have a strong muscle without exercise and practie.  Magical thinking doesn’t work with muscles, and it doesn’t work with courage or patience either.   I would argue it’s harder to change an emotional habit, but the rewards are long lasting and pervasive, which is something I cannot say about toning my abs.

We also don’t assume it’s going to be perfect.  That muscle will not always work the way we want it to work,  or when we want it to work, especially when in the learning stages.   We will sometimes also miss a session or two, but we get back into our routine if meaningful change is important to us.

What if, instead of circuit training at the gym, we exercise a circuit of strengths and virtues we wish to cultivate?  Today I’m going to do rounds in humility, patience and serenity.  Tomorrow I’m going to do serenity, inspiration and joy.  What would my emotional muscles look like 6 months from now?


All:  Don’t forget to send me questions or topics you’d like for me to discuss.  Go either to this blog, email me at,  or to the Talk to Susanna link on the left.  Thanks!  Look forward to hearing from you!

Events That Are Torture (But Really Aren’t)

Painful dentist visit - LIttle Shop of Horrors

Painful dentist visit – LIttle Shop of Horrors

I’ve noticed another trend in my behavior when writing my last blog.  No, not creating multiple grammatical and typographical errors, I don’t tend to notice them (give me a break, I majored in science and my parents are immigrants.)  I realized that I don’t tend to find events that are supposed to be torture to necessarily be torture.  Quite the opposite.

In my last blog I wrote about how great moving can be when that event is commonly (and rightfully) viewed as painful and awful.  I realized that this is a recurring theme for me regarding supposedly tortuous events.  I won’t go so far to say I’d recommend them to anyone, or would want to do an encore of any of them either, but I found these so-called painful experiences to be far more positive than I had anticipated.

For example, most people hate going to the dentist.  I don’t love it per se, and don’t go when I don’t have to, but relaxing in that comfy chair with someone attending to me, no interruptions, is in it’s own way a mini-refuge.  A very scaled down version of going to the spa, so to speak.  My smile does look great when I leave.  Plus I love the staff there.  They are like family to me and I look forward to them brightening my day.  (BTW I don’t feel the same way about going to the gynecologist though he’s pretty awesome too.)

I loved changing diapers (no I won’t change the diaper on your baby!)  We chose to use cloth diapers with the babies while I was at home with them, so they had to be changed frequently.  Yes it was stinky sometimes, but I loved being able to see my sons in their naked glory, get them clean and fresh once again, several times a day.  I had to be completely present during the experience or I might miss something (phew!) or get soaked.  The number of days one’s kids allow them to be undressed by a parent are limited and fleeting.

I also found my oral comprehensive exam (the formative, 3 hour oral exam with your committee of 5 faculty for the doctorate degree) to be a really great experience as well.  I don’t know about other programs, but we generally had the luxury of taking 3-4 weeks to do nothing but prepare for the exam.  During that time, I read anything and everything I wanted regarding my dissertation.  It was pretty much focused and uninterrupted (except by the 1989 San Francisco earthquake) and I luxuriated in the once-in-a-lifetime freedom to just learn about whatever I wanted.  During the exam itself I enjoyed giving the presentation (another thing I enjoy doing that others hate) and the Q&A session felt empowering to me because I did a good job answering the questions.

I would even go so far as to say the divorce fell into this category.  No, I wouldn’t have chosen a divorce for me or anyone else compared to a successful marriage, but for a troubled marriage it was the right thing to do.  I’m also very proud of my ex and me for how amicably we parted, and so the divorce was a positive, not devastating experience for our two teenaged sons (I realize there may be some rationalization on our part here).    The post-separation period, though literally terrifying, was a liberating experience for me filled with growth and discovery.

Maybe such traumatic events are really only traumatic if we believe them to be.    We can “horribilize” them and make them worse than they are, or we can find the opportunity and turn the event into a neutral, if not positive and enhancing experience.

My younger son started college this summer and he talks about how much “fun” exams are.  I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.