7 Breath Decisions

A colleague came to me recently with a problem. He was frustrated and defeated. “I feel sick because I can’t CHOOSE!”. My buddy constantly struggled with making decisions in a timely fashion. He couldn’t pull the trigger after debating several options.

“How long has this been a problem?” I asked. He quickly unraveled; the inability to choose cost him countless opportunities in love, business, and friendship. His entire life was one big question mark. “How can I learn to decide faster ?”

I suggested a passage from The Hagakure (book of Samurai guiding principles) for him. This book lays out a principle of making decisions in the span of 7 breaths.

Just the thought of making a decision within 7 breaths (about 30 seconds) can cause anxiety for some. It requires incredible knowledge of oneself. It requires commitment. It takes focus, determination, and self-control. Even after a decision is made, you still need resolve to stick with it. Saying to yourself “I’m going to stop smoking, find a new job, and go to therapy!” means nothing without the drive to stand by your decision and follow through.

We struggle with decisions because we often don’t know ourselves well enough to pick what’s really best for us.  Even worse yet: the lack of confidence in our inner voice stops us from sticking with the decisions we finally make.

If you struggle with being indecisive or if you feel powerless in wake of a decision, I suggest the following exercise for you.


Turn each breath into fire to forge your future! [Photo credit: Darius Soodmand]

7 Breath Decisions:

This is supposed to be done over the span of 3 days. It is best if preceded by a writing exercise [like this one!] which will bring focus and clarity to your goals.

  1. “I can and will make a decision in the span of 7 breaths”. Start your day by looking into the mirror, no matter how silly you feel and say that phrase. Confidently! Repeat it until you actually believe it.
  2. Make your decision in 7 breaths. From small decisions (“where do you want to go to lunch?”) to larger ones (“is it time to look for a new job?”). If you feel anxiety – remind yourself: this is just an EXERCISE, think of it as an experiment. Nothing has to be permanent. You CAN survive 3 days of this! DO NOT reverse any decisions unless there is a threat of harming yourself or others. Stick with it and don’t think about the choice after you’ve made it. Force yourself to move forward.
  3. Keep a single consistent log of your choices. For some people, a notepad works, for others, writing on their phone is better. Pick what you’re most likely to stick with. Write about the type of decision, what made it difficult, what lead to your choice, and your feelings after choosing. Do this as soon after each choice as possible.
  4. Once the experiment is over, reflect back. What types of decisions were the hardest for you? Why? What decisions were easy? What were your results? How much time did you save by avoiding the agony, anxiety, and fear of “choosing” ? Were there any decisions you regretted? Do you notice a pattern?

I was also struggling with a big decision. Going back to work or pushing through to graduate school. I couldn’t make the choice within 7 breaths, I’ll admit. But I realized I was no closer to pulling the trigger after agonizing for weeks. Sometimes the hardest choices are ones that require sacrifice, but just remember – choices CAN and should change as your needs, skills, and goals evolve. Deciding what’s best now doesn’t mean it defines your ultimate forever. For me, making the choice to work now means I can save for my future and prioritize graduate school when I’m ready!

Wishing you all clarity and decisiveness,

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What do YOU want?

In 2015 I  left a job I really enjoyed to move back to my home city. My father had fallen ill and I needed to be closer to spend time with him and my family. I decided that while I was home, I would finish my degree and work as a counselor in my community. It was a huge career shift but I wanted to see if it was right for me.

There was a very powerful writing exercise that helped me build up the courage to drastically change my surroundings and path.

From writer Victor Pride,

“Get a paper and pen and write down the most important things in your life. Read this repeatedly until you have narrowed down exactly what is most important. Then say it out loud. Don’t mumble and don’t stutter. Say it loud with confidence.

Go somewhere you can be alone. Go for a long drive. Go for a walk in the woods. Leave your phone and iPads and electronic junk behind. Just you and your thoughts. Answer the question “What do you want” and answer with complete honesty. There will be no one around to judge your thoughts, there will be no one around to laugh at you or say it can’t be done.”

It seemed so simple, but doing it was VERY HARD. I felt silly, idealistic, and greedy – just writing down what I wanted from life! I’ve kept my list of important goals close to my heart for 3 years now. And it’s a living document, which means it changes as I learn and grow.


Photo of my original list from 2015!

For anyone out there feeling directionless, try this exercise! It helps you explore and develop individual goals.

Without direction, we float aimlessly like a ship without a sail – hoping that the winds of life will drift us in a good direction. But we reach our fullest potential when we move with purpose and direction.

The direction of my life is changing yet again. I’ve completed many of the goals I set out to accomplish with my move back home. Thankfully my family is in a better more stable place. Guess it’s time to add a few new bullet points to my list!

Wishing clarity and resilience,

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What are you thankful for?

Gratitude: the act (and habit) of being thankful.

This year I’m thankful for many things! I’m thankful that my blog is finally off the ground! Writing about mental health has been both a challenge and a joy. I’m also thankful that I’m having another family get together with delicious food! I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to continue my education every day and broaden my scope of knowledge.

Being thankful has some advantages that we’ve only recently uncovered. University of Southern California released a study in 2015; it outlines a connection between gratitude and morality, connectivity to others, and empathy. Thanksgiving is a great time to get back in touch with what you’re happy about.

Yet holidays can still be a trigger. People coping with trauma may find that holidays call up painful memories. While some isolate due to depression or anxiety, others spend these days crowded around a dysfunctional family without escape.

For those handling stress this Thanksgiving (or any other holiday) here are some quick tips to get some joy out of the holidays.

  1. Know your limits and plan accordingly. If you suffer from anxiety and your family environment is loud, uncontrollable, and overwhelming – plan to spend only as much time as you can handle. Plan for the amount of time that’s best for you. If your family is supportive, explain your reasons. Always have a plan in place in the event your trip needs to be cut short.
  2. Try to incorporate things that you enjoy during the holiday. Say aloud “It’s my day too”. Do something special for yourself to boost your mood. Cook your favorite meal, listen to a happy playlist, go to your favorite hiking spot, watch a movie you love.
  3.  Give yourself permission to leave any situation that threatens your emotional stability. Consider using a hotel or staying with a hometown friend if family is overwhelming.
  4. Avoid mind/mood-altering substances when in distress. I know it can be tempting to drown your sorrows down in oblivion. However, the issues that prompted you to use substances will still be there after the effect has worn off. There is a difference between social use and desperate use, but the lines can be blurred when in a stressful position.
  5. Don’t base your ideals on movies, friends, social media, or anything else that’s not a realistic standard. Your situation is uniquely yours and doesn’t need to be like anyone else’s. Keep in mind, part of gratitude is understanding other people’s point of view. Your family members may be just as exhausted, irritated, and apprehensive as you are. If you want to bring up emotional topics, make sure the time and setting is conducive.


Enjoy your holidays!

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Boundaries: Permission to Protect Yourself

A boundary is a limit or guideline you set to govern social interactions and relationships. Boundaries are rules of engagement; they separate healthy normal behaviors from undesirable or unacceptable ones. They are a good part of any relationship and evolve through time as we do. While there are many types of boundaries, today we’ll focus on emotional boundaries with others.

Family interactions are usually our crash course in boundaries – our families teach us what’s praiseworthy versus what will result in punishment.

You discover your parent’s limits the first time you’re scolded for throwing a tantrum. Alternatively, if your parents did not have clear guidelines, you may struggle to understand why friends or other relatives find the same behavior upsetting. My parents set many boundaries with us surrounding appropriate displays of emotions. I learned not to speak to them (or any adult) in a disrespectful manner. They enforced civility even during disagreements. “It’s natural to argue, but not OK to scream, curse or be nasty just for the sake of being nasty!”, my mom often said . Their framework was my norm and has stayed with me through my adult life. But of course we didn’t always follow the rules, we were kids after all and some of us struggled with boundaries more than others. But when we went out-of-bounds, we’d lose a privilege of some type. Guaranteed. So I quickly figured out boundaries and consequences for crossing them in the safety of my home.

We absorb so much from our families without even realizing it. Where, when, and how we set boundaries is based on what behavior we consider “normal” and acceptable; the barometer is typically set by what we observe in childhood. Some adults retain the boundaries set by family or cultural norms while others actively curate a personal code that matches their adult beliefs. Boundaries with family, friends, and romantic partners usually change as we grow. We set better boundaries when we have secure sense of self/identity.


Limits are set by parents to protect their child, but in adolescence and adulthood we are responsible for setting boundaries to protect ourselves. Our rules are CRITICAL because they signal to others how we want to be treated and what we will tolerate. People without clear emotional boundaries (and those who struggle to enforce them) are bound to attract boundary-steppers. Friends, family, lovers may cross lines without even knowing. Without governing principles for how we’re treated – how can we ensure safety and fulfillment of needs?

Every healthy person has boundaries but it’s up to the individual where they draw the line and how they communicate those rules to others. Different boundaries are appropriate for the varied social interactions we encounter daily. For example -boundaries with coworkers may be tighter than those with our roommates or friends we’ve known for years.

Exercise: Think back to a BIG conflict that happened when someone violated your boundaries.

-What was the boundary violated?
-Why do you think you developed this boundary in the first place?
-How was this boundary communicated? Was it communicated at all?
-Was the boundary expressed before or after the conflict?
-Did you enforce the boundary? If yes: in what ways? If no: why not?
-What was the end result?
-What could you have done differently to prevent or better handle the issue?

To avoid a never ending cycle of “boundary stepping”, we must consciously define, express, and enforce our limits. Healthy people set boundaries to protect their feelings. But even the strongest of us are tempted to let close confidants overstep them. Why is this? Most often it leads back to a simple concept: we think budging will somehow bring us some type of emotional fulfillment. We cave on how we want to be treated in hopes of obtain love, attention, favor, appreciation, excitement. We think “well I know I hate how they talk to me, but gosh I sure do love hanging out with them!” or “I hate getting drunk calls from my ex, but maybe if I put up with this long enough we can get back together”. We let people pass our safety limits to secure better treatment in the future. Odd, right? It goes without saying that this strategy almost never ends with our needs being met. The tactic of sacrificing our dignity often leaves us unhappy and saddled with the guilt of knowing we should have protected ourselves better.

I’ll be really honest with you guys. It was very difficult for me (as an adult) to set healthy boundaries with my parents. Especially considering that I was conditioned to accept their terms unilaterally without much thought to my own terms. It took years of my young adulthood to learn how to properly communicate to my folks that my adult life was separate from theirs. I found a way to explain that while I was often happy to share – there are situations I want to navigate alone without their input or interference. This felt awkward and painful at first, but eventually they got the point and learned to respect my boundaries without much reminding. When they would aggressively pry or involve themselves I learned to immediately cut the conversation or interaction short. But the funny thing about boundaries is that once you go through the potentially uncomfortable stage of setting and enforcing them, those who truly love and respect you will accept them and move on so you can  ease back into the more enjoyable parts of the relationship.

When people respect your boundaries (and you are mindful of theirs) the connection deepens and can weather all storms.

Give yourself permission to set and enforce the boundaries needed to flourish,

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April 2016 Quote of the Month

“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”


We often underestimate the power and importance of self love.

People are forever searching – where’s that perfect person to complete me? When will someone “save me”? How will I get to that special individual who makes it all worth it?

When was the last time you put as much energy into loving and accepting yourself as you put into searching for the perfect partner?

There is no better person to invest in than yourself. There is no one else on earth who has your unique experiences and your background. No one else has your exact story or your set of skills, knowledge, and abilities.

Unresolved trauma can lead us to feel unworthy of love. Low self-esteem and depression can make us feel downright hideous. Rejection from our parents, friends, or first loves early on can be crippling. Fear of rejection can lead us to try to please others at the expense of our own needs.

Love yourself enough to work on the rough parts while still cherishing the great bits. Ignore society’s almost a neurotic interest in finding a perfect all encompassing romantic love. The only relationship you’re promised for a lifetime is the one you have with yourself.  Once you love, accept, and respect yourself – you’ll be surprised at all the incredible variants of love you can receive in return.


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