547: The Community Factor

Laser Provision

It’s necessary but not sufficient to have clear intentions and self-discipline. Our environments represent a third factor that may be the most important of all when it comes to supporting and sustaining Optimal Wellness. When those environments are life-giving and life-affirming, when they have our best interests at heart, they represent a sea of benevolence that buoys us up and pulls us forward. You, the readers of LifeTrek Provisions, are one such environment for me. But there are many other environments, and they all need to work together if we hope to be at our best.

LifeTrek Provision


Six months ago I shared with you my decision to make Provisions a more intermittent publication, in order to better manage my schedule and stress. Since that time, it has not gone unnoticed by many readers that I continue to write and publish Provisions and that we have, in fact, not skipped a single week. What’s up with that?

It’s not that I’m addicted to writing Provisions. I could stop tomorrow if the only consideration was my own schedule and stress. There are others, however, who make it hard to stop writing. For one, there are my colleagues in LifeTrek Coaching, who follow up on most of the Contacts for Coachingthat come in through our newsletter and Website. We’ve already had more than a half dozen inquiries since the start of the New Year, and we appreciate your interest in the services we have to offer.

The real challenge, however, is managing my sense of connection to you, the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. I can honestly say that not a week goes by in which someone doesn’t respond in ways that both surprise and humble me. When people write to say that my words are speaking to their heart, or that my teachings have somehow given them a new lease on life, it’s hard to stop and take that away.

Over the holidays, for example, I had many delightful visits with family and friends. Many expressed empathy and concern over the problems I wrote about in December, after I experienced an unexpected panic attack that landed me briefly in a hospital Emergency Room. Fortunately, it did not turn out to be a heart attack or any other cardiovascular malady, but I have been pursuing a number of possibilities and treatments related to the GI tract. At this point I am encouraged both with my learning and with my progress.

In conversation about this situation, one person encouraged me to take good care of myself, including plenty of time for rest and relaxation. She’s right about that. It’s been a frequent refrain in our current series on Optimal Wellness over the past year. No one knows better than I the importance of a lifestyle that includes a healthy rhythm between periods of exertion and work with periods of relaxation and play. No sooner had she encouraged me to take good care of myself, however, than she went on to say how much she appreciated Provisions, how she reads them every week, and how she hoped I would keep them coming.

The irony was not lost on me. That is, in fact, the challenge of us all. How do we manage our productivity in ways that does not push out our pastimes? The answer will be different for every person, but it always involves some combination of intentionality, willpower, and environment.

Until we decide what we want • intentionality • there’s no way to develop a rhythm. We bounce from one thing to the next, until we eventually crash and burn. We don’t know when to say, “Yes.” and when to say, “No.” As a result, we run ourselves ragged.

But intention alone is not sufficient to get the job done. Such good intentions are the ones that pave the road to you know where. The next piece is willpower: perseverance, tenacity, discipline. Without willpower, we lack the follow-through to stay on the path.

Unfortunately, many self-help programs stop there when it comes to life makeovers. They assist you to clarify your vision (intentionality) and strengthen your resolve (willpower). As important as these are, they’re not sufficient to get the job done over the long haul. Life has a way of getting in the way, and when that happens it takes more than intentionality and willpower to stay on track. It takes supportive and sustaining environments.

That was one of the insights that I gleaned from and appreciated about Thomas Leonard, a founder of the modern coaching movement. Thomas identified nine environments that could be designed in ways that would make it easier for our intentions to be realized and our willpower to be renewed:

  1. Memetic (e.g., slogans, tunes, beliefs, and fashions)
  2. Body (all 10 trillion cells!)
  3. Self (i.e., our persona in the world)
  4. Spiritual (surrounded, as we are, by Life)
  5. Relationships (both near and far, given our interconnectedness)
  6. Network (from computers to every other system)
  7. Financial (including reserves and automation)
  8. Physical (home, work, and every other structure)
  9. Nature (as in the natural world)

So, as coaches, we assist people to align their environments with their intentions. Example: at times in my life I have enjoyed playing the guitar and singing songs. Ten years ago, however, my guitar was stolen and I have never gotten around to replacing it. So guess how much guitar playing I have done in the past ten years? If you guessed “Zero” you were close, although at times I have picked up someone else’s guitar and strummed a few chords.

Soon, that will change and easily enough, as I buy a guitar and place it on a stand in my family room. Once it’s in my environment, the next ten years will witness a lot more strumming than the past ten years. It won’t even take much work. The guitar will be there, I will see it, sit down, and start to play. Who knows, I may even learn to pick! Now that would be fun.

That’s the way environments work, at their best, to support Optimal Wellness. Of course they can also work the other way, to tear us down, but (contrary to popular belief) environments are not fixed and given things. They are mutable and subject to redesign; all it takes is a little imagination and courage.

Where do we find such things? I, for one, find them in the course of conversation. That’s why it’s hard to stop writing Provisions • we have a conversation going that is, itself, a supportive and sustaining environment. Your recent outpouring of support and suggestions vis-•-vis my panic attack is a case in point. Without you, and others in my circle, I would not be as far along as I am in my learning and handling of the situation,

None of us can go it alone. There isn’t enough willpower in the world to make that work! But together with supportive and sustaining environments, our willpower can be magnified into life-giving and life-affirming designs.

May it be so for you. If you’re not sure how to get started, give us a call. Put out your own All Points Bulletin. Once the conversation starts, you’ll be surprised by what comes back. The next thing you know, you too may be buying a guitar (or making other, far more radical, changes). It really is possible to change.

Coaching Inquiries: How well do your environments support your intentions and sustain your willpower? How can you make them more favorable and conducive to life? Who could you talk with about the possibilities for change? Who could join you on the path and support you on the journey?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


After your poem, Connection, you posed the following Coaching Inquiry: “How could you connect with your own, inner wisdom?” Since starting coach training with Wellcoaches last fall I’ve learned much more about the value of silence in helping me connect to my own wisdom. Since I spend more than an hour each day commuting I now use most of that time for thinking, without the distraction of music, annoying radio hosts, or insipid radio programs. This time to think about and appreciate life’s gifts has made me more grateful for all that I have, rather than trying to chase after all that I don’t.


While searching AI and Coaching on Amazon, I noticed that you have a publication called Appreciative Inquiry in Coaching. However, it does not seem to be published yet. At least it is not available on Amazon and I don’t see any mention of it on your site. Can you tell me if it’s available? I am currently working on a workshop on this topic and I feel your publication would be helpful. May you create many extraordinary moments for you, your family and your clients in 2008. (Ed. Note: That is the May 2007 edition of the online journal AI Practitioner.) 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #549: Optimal Wellness

Laser Provision

Today we conclude our series on Optimal Wellness. Whether it has to do with nutrition, fitness, or the things that make life worth living, we can learn much from studying the practices and patterns of our original human ancestors. The lives of these people were not, as some have suggested, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (apart from infectious disease and injuries). They were rather good lives that are still in our genes and in our bones today. That’s why it’s worth getting to know these people, and this Provision • one last time • will reintroduce you to them.

LifeTrek Provision


I have often said that I write Provisions not to share what I know but to share what I am learning on the trek of life. By engaging in this weekly discipline I not only learn from the research and writing, I also learn from you, our readers, who generously share replies and wisdom along the way. It has been this way for more than nine years now, and I feel deep gratitude for the continuing opportunity.

This particular series on Optimal Wellness began, incredibly enough, just after the fourth of July in 2006. That’s when I wrote the first Provision in this series. But it really began, at least for me, ten years ago: that’s when I left pastoral ministry, lost 65 pounds, became a runner, and started LifeTrek Coaching International. It was truly a year of Changing for Good.

One reason the changes stuck was because I made the shift to coaching. It’s not enough to do things only in our own self-interest. That only goes so far and lasts so long. When we do things both for ourselves and for others, however, the world aligns to make it so. By sharing my journey with others, in open and positive ways, wonderful things have happened to keep me motivated and moving forward. Many of those things I could not have predicted ten years ago, but I did know and trust that life has a way of working out for those who remain its students.

So that’s what I’ve sought to be for lo these many years. When, by the fall of 1998, I had lost my weight and run my first marathon in more than 15 years, I did not think of myself as having reached my goal or arrived at my destination. Instead, I became a coach in order to keep learning and to share the learning process with others. I never would have sustained the change with any other attitude.

My understanding of Optimal Wellness is a case in point. Five years after I had lost my weight and run 20 more marathons, one might think that I would have had this Optimal Wellness thing all figured out. By then I was a successful coach who had made wellness one of his specialties, assisting others to lose weight, get in shape, and develop healthy rhythms in life and work. I had even written my first booklet on the subject before getting introduced, in the summer of 2004, to a body of knowledge known as evolutionary wellness.

Talk about mind boggling! S. Boyd Eaton, MD, from Emory University in Atlanta, gave a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution titled, “Stone Agers in the Fast Lane: Health Promotion in the 50th Millennium.” I happened to hear that lecture and, over time, it proceeded to totally change my approach to Optimal Wellness. The evolutionary principle that Eaton articulated was simple and convincing: by learning about the diet and lifestyle of our original ancestors, we can learn about the diet and lifestyle that best suits human beings today and in the future.

Why would our original diet and lifestyle be so prescriptive? Because we ate and lived that way for most of our existence as a species. Only recently, in evolutionary terms, have we made dramatic changes to our diets and lifestyles (through the agricultural, industrial, and now informational revolutions). Although those revolutions have generated some wonderful things, including civilization as we know it today, they have also generated chronic disease and stress in unprecedented proportions. That’s why Eaton and many others now argue persuasively that the original diet and lifestyle, from the Paleolithic period, is worth emulating (in so far as that is possible) for those seeking to optimize their own health and well-being.

So nearly four years ago my diet and lifestyle went through yet another transformation, a transformation that is still ongoing. I have been sharing that transformation with you, for more than a year and half, through the pages of LifeTrek Provisions:

  • Evolutionary Nutrition. Prior to 10,000 years ago, no human being on the planet was eating grains, dairy products, or beans. These products of agriculture had not been invented yet. Prior to 100 years ago, no human being on the planet was eating foods that had been grown and fertilized with the byproducts of fossil fuels. The power to fix nitrogen, by combining nitrogen and hydrogen gases under immense heat and pressure in the presence of a catalyst, had not been invented yet. As a result, the human population was smaller and far less developed.But it was also healthier from the standpoint of chronic disease and stress. Many people are surprised to learn that; I know I was. I assumed that the lives of our original ancestors, to quote Thomas Hobbes in 1651, were “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Nothing, it turns out, could be further from the truth. Without wanting to exaggerate or ignore the very real challenges of their existence, it is safe to say that our original ancestors lived relatively long, enjoyable, and active lives in supportive communities. Their diet, as hunters and gatherers, included primarily wild game, birds, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Those are the foods, grown organically, along with plenty of clean water, that still make for optimal nutrition today.
  • Evolutionary Fitness. Prior to 10,000 years ago, no human being on the planet lived in permanent shelters, let alone in urban areas, with foods delivered practically to their doors. Civilization, as we know it, had not been invented yet. Prior to 200 years ago, no human being on the planet was moving around with the help of fossil fuels. The internal combustion engine had not been invented yet. As a result, the human population was parochial and far less mobile.But it was also far more active and fit. It takes a lot of work to hunt and gather food without gunpowder and metal. It also takes a lot of planning and ingenuity. All that contributed not only to the development of big brains but also to fit bodies. The two go hand in hand. The more we use our brains and bodies, the better we will feel and live. Inactivity and lack of exercise contradict human nature and undermine human health.

    In this area, too, I had a big surprise. It’s not hard to imagine that hunters and gatherers had more activity and exercise than modern office workers. I did not realize, however, that they also had more rest and relaxation. No one worked straight through from 9 to 5, let alone from 5 to 9. They rather developed healthy rhythms between exertion and recovery, both day to day and season to season. Much was dependent upon weather and light. Day to day, our original ancestors took naps and slept far more often than we do today. They built their fitness on a solid foundation of self-care that we would do well to emulate.

  • Evolutionary Goodness. And it wasn’t all about self-care; they were also far more attentive to and supportive of each other’s needs than we are today. There’s really no other way to survive in the wild. For a description, I turn it back to Dr. Eaton in his 1988 book, The Paleolithic Prescription:Our original ancestors “were much like us • experiencing most of the same hopes, doubts, desires, pleasures, challenges, disappointments, and conflicts. But they experienced them together. Social isolation, with its now established threat to mental and physical health, was unknown to them. Stresses were numerous, but they arose out of the realities of life, not from clock watching, traffic jams, or class consciousness.”

    “Their lives were spent working, playing, eating, sleeping, entertaining, and worshipping • with a close-knit group of people who, as much as they might complain, cared for one another. When tensions arose that couldn’t be resolved, they were free to move off and join other friends and relatives in a different band for varying lengths of time. Their children grew up in that same context of closeness, nurturance, and love.”

    In other words, benevolence! Only in supportive communities and environments could people survive and thrive. Banishment meant certain death. Mutual aid meant life. “This was the way of life,” Eaton concludes, “that characterized every generation of human beings on our planet for most of the course of human evolution.” It’s in our genes and in our bones to care and to make life more wonderful for others.

So that’s the pattern we have followed in developing the Optimal Wellness Prototype. It’s called a prototype not because I happen to like this way of eating, exercising, and existing. Indeed, I was a vegetarian eating lots of grain and dairy products before stumbling upon evolutionary wellness. It’s called a prototype, which literally means “the original or model on which something is based or formed,” because it follows directly from the patterns of behavior that got us to where we are today. And I intend to stay with the one who brought me to the dance.

It’s interesting that I’ve had more health challenges over the past year, while writing about optimal wellness, than I’ve had at other times in my life. As I look back on those challenges now, none of which involve chronic disease, I see them as being primarily related to stress. Even though the Optimal Wellness Prototype puts sleep, rest, relaxation, and recovery at the base of the fitness pyramid, I have not been getting enough of those myself.

So this represents my growing edge in the year ahead. I have become much more faithful, since the start of the year, in taking a mid-afternoon break for meditation and in lying back down when I wake up early in the morning. Both practices seem to be having their desired effects. Other changes are in the works. That’s because I want my practices, communities, and environments to conspire for optimal wellness, in every possible way.

To that end, I’ll now be taking a six-month break from writing Provisions. I need more ease as well as more space for other important projects. During that time, we’ll be sending out Provisions from several years ago, which feature interviews with LifeTrek Coaching clients. For new readers, who never saw them in the first place, it will be fresh material. For longtime readers, who may only vaguely remember them, it will serve to bring back fond memories. For all readers, it will answer the questions as to why and how coaching works.

Whether it comes to wellness or work, leadership or life, creativity or resilience, LifeTrek Coaching can assist you to find your own answers on the journey. We hope to hear from you soon.

Coaching Inquiries: What actions could you take that would make your life more wonderful? How could you move closer in your manner of living to the wisdom gleaned from evolutionary wellness? What changes would you like to make in your diet and lifestyle? How could your communities and support networks conspire to make it so? Who could you talk with this week, about the possibilities?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


Thought you might enjoy this… http://thesecret.tv/optimists-creed. (Ed. Note: I did! Thanks.)


I discovered this quote from a national pastor who was later martyred in Zimbabwe almost a year ago, and it really challenged my life! So I thought I would pass it on as a challenge for others. I hope you choose to reprint it.

“I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed! I have the Holy Spirit’s power! The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I’m finished with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals. I no longer need preeminence, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, depend on God’s presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and labor with power. That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.” (Ed. Note: One does not need to be a Christian to appreciate the energy and enjoy the passion of this man. Thanks.) 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #548: The Five Factors

Laser Provision

For the past five months we have considered five factors of benevolence: empathy, giving, reciprocity, honesty, and the environment. Each represents a critical piece of the puzzle if we hope to experience Optimal Wellness. That may seem strange, since we usually think of wellness in terms of nutrition and fitness. But it’s so much more than those two arenas and even those two arenas take benevolence in order to come to fruition. If you haven’t understood the connection before, then this Provision will make it clear. Enjoy!

LifeTrek Provision


Although I received Bill Clinton’s book titled Giving as a Christmas gift from my daughter-in-law, this Provision and this Provision series started long before Bill Clinton profiled some great givers in his book and issued his call for everyone to join their ranks. It is, indeed, an ancient truth that no one makes it through life alone and that only through generosity will we experience the best life has to offer.

That goes for every dimension of human experience: our own well being hinges on the well being of others. In so far as our generosity • of time, talent, and treasure • anchors us in a community of generosity, our life and the lives of others will be the better for it. What goes around comes around, as they say, so why not pass around the things that make life better for one and all?

Almost 60 years ago, Malvina Reynolds (best known, perhaps, for her song “Little Boxes,” made famous by Pete Seeger), wrote the children’s song “Magic Penny” while her daughter was at a junior high school dance in 1949. The lyrics speak to the power of giving as well today as they did then:

Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

It’s just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor.

For love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

Money’s dandy and we like to use it,
But love is better if you don’t refuse it.
It’s a treasure and you’ll never lose it
Unless you lock up your door.

For love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

So let’s go dancing till the break of day,
And if there’s a piper, we can pay.
For love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

For love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

That’s one of those songs that I used to play and sing on the guitar that I will soon replace, as a way to relax, have some fun, and be reminded of what makes life more wonderful (see last week’s Provision on The Environment Factor). As a kid, I thought of this song as appertaining only to relationships. What is love, after all, if it’s not “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person”? Give that away, and you will certainly end up having more.

But that is only the first definition of love in the dictionary. A quick check reveals at least 64 more overlapping entries! For our purposes, entry 9 at Dictionary.com is most intriguing: “affectionate concern for the well-being of others.” Put that into the Magic Penny song and here’s what you get:

Well-being is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Well-being is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

It’s just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor.

Money’s dandy and we like to use it,
But well-being is better if you don’t refuse it.
It’s a treasure and you’ll never lose it
Unless you lock up your door.

For well-being is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Well-being is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

That’s the connection we’ve been seeking to make for the past five months between benevolence and Optimal Wellness. Until we all become well no one will be well, because the pressures against lone individuals are just too great. Bill Clinton gets it right when he writes:

“The modern world, for all its blessings, is unequal, unstable, and unsustainable. And so the great mission of the early twenty-first century is to move our neighborhoods, our nation, and the world toward integrated communities of shared opportunities, shared responsibilities, and a shared sense of genuine belonging, based on the essence of every successful community: that our common humanity is more important than our interesting differences.”

In other words, the essence of every successful community is benevolence. What works for the community works for the individual and vice-versa. If we hope to be healthy and well, then we need communities that are healthy and well. And that, to quote yet another song lyric, begins with me. The more benevolent we become in our dealings with others, the more benevolent others and even our communities become in their dealings with us. Well-being is all a great circle of love.

So over the past five months I’ve suggested that we pay attention to five factors, each of which have their part to play in the benevolent field of Optimal Wellness. In case you missed them, here’s a quick review:

  1. The Empathy Factor. We spent a lot of time here, because empathy is where it starts and ends when it comes to benevolence. Apart from the willingness and ability to respectfully understand the feelings and needs of others, there will be no connection, caring, or community. Empathy is not only a prelude to action, it is an action in its own right and it carries its own weight when it comes to Optimal Wellness. There is no way to be well without empathy.That’s why my wife and I have gotten so excited about learning the process for expressing empathy known as Nonviolent Communication. Empathy is not just an aptitude that each of us, along with many other animals, are born with. It is also a framework that we can adopt and a skill that we can learn in order to enhance our connection, caring, and community with others. When that happens, we become better beings than we were before.
  2. The Generosity Factor. The more connection we feel the more contribution we make. The two go hand in hand. Connection itself, as we have already noted, is a form of contribution. And it leads to other contributions as well. That’s why I included the story of our friend, Jennifer, who at the age of 50 recently adopted three children, all siblings, from a Russian orphanage, as well as excerpts from my wife’s diary during the week she went to Russia, to assist Jennifer to bring those children to her home in Chicago. Both the adoption and my wife’s trip were examples of empathy in action.First, I interviewed Jennifer to get a sense of where this was coming from for her. Then, I let my wife speak for herself as to her motivation (Jennifer needed help!) and experience. With a few hiccups along the way, they made it there and back in fine fashion and the kids • who I met for the first time over the holidays • seem to be truly happy and well in the wake of all that generous giving. I don’t fully know what their lives were like before, but I do know that the empathy they now receive is having many positive effects on their well being.
  3. The Reciprocity Factor. Humans are not the only animals who notice, remember, and reciprocate those caring acts of empathy and giving. Although we hesitate to make that our motivation, because it seems self-serving and manipulative, there’s no denying that we tend to reach out to those who reach out to us. It’s called friendship, and it’s another important factor when it comes to benevolence. If we fail to reciprocate, then the penny loses its magic and the circle stops going round.Fortunately, that’s not the way life works. We are born with the tendency to smile at those who smile at us. Keeping that in mind, then, it becomes easy to make benevolence our way in the world. The more we give, the more we receive; the more we reciprocate, the more we have to appreciate. Be sure to come from that framework and to practice that skill as well.
  4. The Honesty Factor. I’m not sure I would have framed the fourth benevolence factor in terms of honesty had it not been for the panic attack I experienced in early December. The attack sent me to the ER while I was visiting friends in Waco, Texas, with all the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. Fortunately, my heart was just fine, thank you, but the experience left me confused, concerned, and self-conscious. If I didn’t have a physical problem, then where did this come from? It seemed to strange to start having psychological problems in my 50s. My needs for understanding, integrity, and wholeness were not being met.I was at first tempted to keep the whole thing to myself, as though it was an embarrassment for a whole life coach to have anything less than a whole life. But true to form, as a man with no unpublished thoughts, I decided to share my experience, feelings, and needs with not only my friends and family but also with you • the 50,000 readers of LifeTrek Provisions. How’s that for coming out of the closet! I’m sure glad I did, because the empathy and information you provided has been invaluable.

    That’s the way honesty works when it’s about feelings and needs rather than opinions and strategies. Tell someone your opinion as to what you think of them and / or what they should do, and you’re likely to end up in a tug-of-war or worse. Tell someone your feelings and needs, without judgment or hidden agendas, and you’re likely to experience benevolence in their response. That’s the way it worked for me and that’s the way it can work for you.

  5. The Community Factor. Finally, we made clear the connection • like Bill Clinton in his book • between individual action and environmental conditions. If we hope to experience the fullness of well being, then both have to work together in synergistic ways. By paying attention not only to how we carry ourselves in the world, as individuals, but also to how we can design better communities, in every sense of the word, we dramatically improve the odds when it comes to Optimal Wellness. Will-power and self-discipline are necessary but not sufficient to carry us through to victory. We also need communities that support our best intentions, every step of the way.Designing environments is one of the great works of coaching. I wrote about that in our series on Changing for Good. We are not therapists trying to figure out what’s going on with the psyches of our clients. We are coaches trying to brainstorm ideas with our clients that will assist them to move forward. Often, those ideas focus as much on the environment as they do on the individual. It is only when individuals and their communities are in concert that all things become possible.

I hope that gives you a sense of both why we have spent so long on benevolence in a series on health and wellness as well as what benevolence looks like when it comes to both self-care and the care of others. Paying attention to the five factors will make all of life easier and better • including such seemingly mundane things as our nutrition and fitness programs. These programs are not ends in themselves; they are, rather, the means to a more wonderful life. I urge you to make it so.

Coaching Inquiries: How do the five factors of benevolence play into your life and work? Can you recall any stories as to how empathy, giving, reciprocity, honesty, and/or environments have assisted you to be the person you want to be? What commitments could you make that would take these factors forward into the week ahead? What actions could you take that someone else would notice?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


I find that very often the things that are most helpful in the lives of others and therefore bring me the most satisfaction in life are not the things that come naturally for me. My body wearies of certain tasks I am called upon to do – for instance, delivering sermons. I am by nature introverted. Very often I am so physically drained after delivering three sermons that I feel like sleeping all day Monday. Yet it is this very function that seems to be the work that the majority of people I serve benefit the most from. I am aware of the pressure these Provisions bring to your life, but you are gifted in writing week after week something refreshing. God bless you in it!


I have enjoyed your newsletter for some time now. I realize that you have a lot on your plate right now, but for some reason, I feel compelled to introduce you to the following Humanitarian Organization. It may or may not resonate with you at this moment, but I’m sure you will hear more and more about it as it unfolds. You may learn more at www.hubhub.org. Another wonderful site that just came to mind is www.whatsuponplanetearth.com. Karen is wonderful at providing insight into what vibrational frequencies may lie behind many of the experiences that are manifesting in our lives. Enjoy!


Greetings • hope your new year is off to a glorious start! I am brand new to the coaching profession. One of my classmates and colleagues at Coach U introduced me to your poem •Passion.• For me it beautifully captures the essence of the spirit of life, as well as what I hope to bring to coaching and to my clients. Therefore, I would like to ask if I may use the poem in my marketing materials; namely, in a bookmark and a brochure? (Ed. Note: Permission granted! Just be sure to reference it back to me and www.LifeTrekCoaching.com. Thanks and best wishes on the adventure of coaching.) 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #544: A Holiday Gift

Laser Provision

Last week I wrote about a health scare I had a few weeks ago, even though I was a bit reticent to make myself that vulnerable. After all, when someone like me, a professional coach, reveals that he had what turned out to be a panic attack, it’s easy to conclude that the man must not be walking the talk. Setting that risk aside, I decided to err on the side of honesty • a key factor in Optimal Wellness. I’m sure glad I did because the outpouring of benevolence was not only much appreciated, it was transformational. You won’t believe what happened.

LifeTrek Provision


I want to thank everyone who replied to last week’s Provision, The Honesty Factor. Your empathy and support were a beautiful gift. Instead of making me feel bad for suffering what turned out to be a panic attack, you lifted my spirits and helped me feel good.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to one reader, not personally known to me, who forwarded to me a copy of Dr. Stuart Shipko’s book, Surviving Panic Disorder. Chapter XXI was particularly riveting because it described what has been happening to me for more than a year. To quote a few of the relevant passages from the book:

My clinical and research experiences show that almost all patients who are having panic attacks bad enough that they require medical treatment (with benzodiazepines or BDZs) also have reflux. Reflux should be treated at the same time as the treatment for panic attacks.

Reflux is often confused with anxiety. Patients seem to get used to the constant discomfort and experience it as a sense of worry. Nervous stomach is felt as a mental sensation of anxiety over time. I have seen patients who initially did not feel that they were having any stomach or esophageal discomfort. It was only after treatment that these people realized how much of what they thought was anxiety was really reflux related symptoms.

Reflux in panic disorder is often a result of bile flowing backwards from the small intestine into the stomach. Bile dissolves the mucous barrier that lines the stomach, making it sensitive to the effects of the hydrochloric acid that is produced by the stomach. Also bile itself is a powerful irritant to the stomach, causing further release of acid and more irritation. Because bile is alkaline, the stomach produces even more acid to neutralize the alkalinity. So bile both irritates the stomach and stimulates acid release. When the stomach fills with acid then the acid, and sometimes both acid and bile, may go up the esophagus causing a variety of problems.

The primary neurotransmitter/hormone responsible for the release of bile is cholecystokinin (CCK). The BDZs act to chemically oppose the action of cholecystokinin. So BDZs themselves may reduce release of bile and help relieve bile-related gastritis and reflux….

In some patients who don’t want to take any sort of mind-altering medication I have treated the reflux alone and found that the patient may experience significant improvement in their anxiety. I consider treatment of gastritis and esophagitis to be an essential part of the treatment of panic disorder. In treating reflux, I have had quite a few patients who no longer had problems with other manifestations of reflux such as sinusitis or chronic cough.

If a patient has panic disorder of sufficient intensity to warrant treatment with a BDZ, then I usually consider a trial of treatment for reflux to be worthwhile. Even if it doesn’t help it is safe and unlikely to cause harm. On the other hand, many patients will have become accustomed to living with their reflux-based heartburn, sinusitis or cough and attribute the discomfort to their mental anxiety. For these patients treatment of reflux is an important part of treating panic disorder.

Dr. Shipko then goes on to describe the medication sucralfate as his medication of choice for the treatment of such reflux. It is a relatively inert compound that does little more than coat the stomach and GI tract, giving it time to heal (in a matter of weeks or months) from whatever damage it may have suffered.

That description of cause and effect, as well as that prescription for treatment, hit me right between the eyes. As someone who had not suffered from anxiety or panic in the first 50 years of life, it has seemed odd to think of those things as now becoming part of my mental landscape in the second 50 years. It makes a lot more sense to think that I might have a physical problem, like reflux, which is manifesting itself in psychological and emotional ways.

So I faxed that chapter to my doctor with the following cover page note: “Read two pages and call me in the morning.” He did just that, explaining, with some excitement, that the chapter made a lot of sense, that it could explain numerous cases over the past 10 years in which patients had failed to respond to conventional treatment, that he had already passed it along to another doctor in his office for use with a particular patient, and that he wanted to follow Dr. Shipko’s treatment protocol with me, given my other test results, effective immediately.

Talk about an abrupt change of face! In three days time, I went from being on anti-anxiety and acid-reflux medication to being on nothing but sucralfate. Gone were the nouveau benzodiazepines and Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) in favor of an old standby (sucralfate was approved by the FDA in 1981) that does little more than allow the body to heal itself • as it’s designed to do, if we just manage to get out of its way.

How did I manage to get in the way? Well, it may have all started about two years ago when I happened to catch Dr. Andrew Weil on television. He mentioned that he took two baby aspirins a day, as a heart-protective measure. I had been taking one baby aspirin, per my cardiologist’s recommendation, with no apparent gastrointestinal (GI) problems. Following Dr. Weil, however, I doubled the dose and I also started to make my own pill, by cutting a standard aspirin in half.

In and of itself, that might not have caused a GI problem. But I was taking that aspirin at night, right before I went to sleep, on an empty stomach, because one study had indicated that this might also help to lower blood pressure. Unfortunately, taking that much aspirin every night on an empty stomach, just as I was lying down, may have eventually contributed to reflux and gastritis. And the rest of my symptoms followed.

I am only beginning to follow Dr. Shipko’s treatment protocol for reflux-based anxiety and panic, but the early results are encouraging and I, for one, am glad to be done with both BDZs and PPIs.

Sucralfate works by going to the root of the problem. By serving as little more than a bandage over the irritated lining of the GI tract, it allows the body to heal and regain its balance, in natural ways. That’s one of the beautiful things about Optimal Wellness: the body wants to cooperate. With the right support, the right diet, exercise, stress management, and • when necessary • recuperative care, the body will work its magic and do what it can to thrive.

That’s my hope, anyway, when it comes to the path I am now following. It’s really the best holiday gift I could have received. And to think, it all came from being honest with you, the readers of LifeTrek Provisions.

People are like that, though, when it comes to the factors that make for Optimal Wellness. Empathy, reciprocity, and honesty all work together for good, in perfect harmony, when it comes to making life more wonderful. At our core, people are more inclined to help than to hurt. Contrary to how it may seem at times, we do not enjoy making life more miserable or difficult for ourselves or anyone else. We just have to learn how to stop fueling the fires of inflammation in order for the wounds to heal and the beauty to be restored.

Do you see the connection between Optimal Wellness on a physical level and Optimal Wellness on all the other levels (psychological, emotional, relational, social, and spiritual)? Benevolence is not an afterthought when it comes to the Optimal Wellness Prototype, it is integral to the model and absolutely essential to human well being. Apart from benevolent intentions and actions, no well-being is possible. With benevolent intentions and actions, beautiful things happen.

So make that your holiday gift as well in this holiday season. Forget the gadgets that will soon be gone; focus on the goodness that makes life worth living. With that as your focus, so it will be.

Coaching Inquiries: What is your focus at this time of year? What are your intentions for the coming year? How could your actions make life more wonderful both for yourself and others? With whom could you risk being more vulnerable and honest? When might you be willing to take the plunge?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


I just read your last Provision, The Honesty Factor, about your situation with acid reflux and panic. This is a subject that is near and *dear* (!?) to me. I suffered from panic disorder for many years. It wasn’t until I read the work of Dr. Stuart Shipko, a psychiatrist who specializes in treating panic disorder, that I understood how acid problems can trigger panic attacks. That isn’t common knowledge, so I’m surprised that the ER staff knew about it.

Attached is a wonderful and very informative e-book that Dr. Shipko wrote, “Surviving Panic Disorder: What You Need to Know.” If you think you’d like to read it, let me know so that I can pay for it. My gift to you! (Ed. Note: You’re the hero this week. Thanks!)


Keep me posted as to your progress. I am sending you many healthy prayers for your best well being. I, too, was once advised to begin some kind of acid-reflux medication, but no thank you. I truly believe the pharmaceutical companies enjoy finding these ‘challenges’ and then offering up meds to take for the rest of one’s life!!!! That’s not for me.

There is sometimes, for example, a hiatal hernia connection with the heart that mimics heart spasms. I know you will do the investigation • it’s so challenging at times • but there will appear the underlying reason at which point you will discover no need for a lifetime of pharmaceuticals. (Ed. Note: Hence today’s Provision! The investigation and experimentation are ongoing, but it has already been determined that I do not have a hiatal hernia.)


Thanks for being so honest in your last Provision; it’s truly uncommon in today’s world. I’ve been reading your Provisions for about a year. If I may make a suggestion to you regarding a possible course of treatment for panic attacks and acid reflux • try some acupuncture. If you find someone good it can work wonders. I’ve practiced acupuncture for eight years and have seen quite amazing results with similar symptoms.


I am glad that you decided to be honest with all your readers. Having experienced many such attacks in my past, I can completely understand how you felt having been told that you had a panic attack brought on by an acid-reflux problem. Now I am going to tell you that I had acid reflux and had been taking PPIs for years, until about three months ago when I started to drink MonaVie, a juice with nineteen fruits including the acai berry. You can read all about it but I would love to send you a Christmas gift for you to try. It is a miracle drink. (Ed. Note: I accept! Thanks.)


Thank you for sharing about your physical difficulties in Dallas. I’m glad this was not something worse! It’s always a surprise when someone as physically active as you and careful about your diet has an occurrence like this. I’m sure it was frightening when I was occurring. This just provides me with another good opportunity to tell you how much I care about you, how much you have influenced my life and my way of thinking, and how much I care for you. I pray that these symptoms go away as quickly as they appeared.


Read your newsletter last night and empathize with your new health crisis. If you ever read my initial story, “Cancer Will Never Happen to Me,” I thought I’d done “everything right” to prevent disease… turns out the key words are “reduce risk”… not prevent! Hope your health continues to improve.


I’m very sorry to hear about the scare you had. It must have been awful! I’m glad you have some measures to stabilize the situation. I applaud you for your honesty in sharing this with others. I hope that will result in an outpouring of support and caring that will also be curative.


I’m proud of you for having the confidence to be honest with your readers. Now it’s time for you to become a Yogi. On to Yoga!


Your last Provision, in which you mention your panic attack, was a really good one. It included a cute pun but I think unintended: “You can bet I would do the same for them, or anyone else who was close by, in a heartbeat.” Nice. 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #543: The Honesty Factor

Laser Provision

I had a health scare a couple weeks ago, and this Provision tells the story. I debated about keeping it to myself, protecting my ego and image. In the end, however, the discipline of writing Provisions won out. I decided that honesty was not only the best policy, it was the only policy if I wanted to maintain integrity with those of you who read Provisions from week to week. That’s the way honesty works: it creates a bond of trust and commitment that leads to benevolence. You’ll see what I mean after you read the story.

LifeTrek Provision


Many people marvel at how I come up with these Provisions every week. Frankly, I’m not sure myself. It’s not like I have them all planned out ahead of time; it’s also not like I have a set time, say an hour every morning, where I gather my ideas and begin to write out my thoughts. I certainly don’t keep a clipping file or even a folder of ideas that I can dip into when the well runs dries. All I know is that at some point toward the end of the week, I finally bring myself to sit down at the keyboard and type. That’s when things begin to flow.

Flow is, in fact, a good description of what usually happens when I write Provisions. Flow, as defined by the famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the experience of being both fully immersed in and unusually successful with an activity. To reach that state of full engagement, the activity needs to be intrinsically interesting and just within reach of one’s abilities. If the activity is too challenging, then it’s overwhelming and stressful. If the activity is not challenging enough, then it’s boring and tedious. When you hit the sweet spot, where the level of challenge perfectly matches your skills, training, and strengths, then you’re in what athletes call “the zone.”

That’s when things begin to flow. I have experienced flow many times in many domains. I will never forget, for example, my experience of running the Las Vegas Marathon in February, 2000. Even though I ran the race of my life, finishing in 3:18, I felt like I was hardly working at all. Everything came together for the moment. The challenge of the race was perfectly matched with my skills, training, and strengths. I was at once focused and free.

I have had many other such moments while running, and they don’t always involve running fast. I remember running, for example, many years ago on the Tow Path Trail, all by myself, in northeast Ohio. I was running in the same direction as the river, and for a period of time I became the river. Once again, the running was effortless and I have no idea what the pace was. All I know was that I was being carried along by the current and my running became a very Zen-like state. Once again, I was in flow.

Well, that’s how writing Provisions usually is for me. I sit down at the keyboard and I write what comes to mind. I usually start out with some piece of my own life experience, and things flow from there. It never ceases to amaze me how this very public private journal connects with so many people. What I think of as the most personal of experiences ends up being the most universal of experiences. Through honest sharing we end up with a bond that enriches both my life and yours.

So it’s time to share the latest and most surprising chapter in my life. Two weeks ago I was in Dallas, Texas to present, with my wife, on the power of strengths-based approaches to revitalize schools. Instead of looking at problems and deficits, this approach looks at possibilities and assets. The effect can be transformational, and you can read more about it on our school-related website CelebrateSchools.com.

Our presentation was well received, with lots of engagement from the participants. They not only heard about strengths-based approaches to revitalize schools, they experienced them through the magic of hands-on learning. I am hopeful that many of the participants will take those practices back to their schools, organizations, or Districts in order to stimulate a different quality of connection, contribution, and conversation.

Two days before the Conference, however, we were visiting friends in Waco, Texas when • while singing songs at their church gathering on Sunday morning • I started to feel weak and short of breath. I sat down, only to have things get worse. It wasn’t long before I was in a hospital Emergency Room, breathing oxygen, hooked up to an EKG machine, and ruling out a possible heart attack.

Fortunately, everything checked out fine. Their diagnosis: a panic attack caused, perhaps, by acid-reflux. Now I have never had anything even resembling a panic attack in my 53-years of existence on planet earth. In fact, I have always thought of myself as rather indestructible. But pride, as they say, goeth before the fall.

So now I am taking medication for both anxiety and acid reflux; the former, my doctor tells me, will last 2-4 months in order to prevent another panic attack from coming on. The latter will last indefinitely (with more than 1 billion people on the planet taking these “proton pump inhibitors,” I’m in good company).

Given that many people read LifeTrek Provisions in order to get tips and learn techniques for Optimal Wellness, I feel a bit odd sharing my experience with panic attacks and acid-reflux. It’s always been wonderful to answer the question, “What medications are you on?” with a single word: “None!” For the foreseeable future, that word has to change.

I even debated about not sharing this part of my journey at all. Why bother? It’s personal, it’s private, and who really cares. Well, for one, I care. And, for another, you care if you can learn anything from my experience that may be helpful to you in pursuit of your own Optimal Wellness. None of us, after all, are truly indestructible. And it helps to be honest if we hope to hold each other up in the spiritual sense of the word.

That’s especially true as we come down the home stretch in our series on benevolence. Remember: we have been focused for more than a year on the three ingredients that make for Optimal Wellness: eating right, exercising well, and managing stress. The latter involves such things as sleep and recreation, but it also involves the kind of caring that goes on under the rubric of benevolence. The more good we do for ourselves and others, the more wonderful life can be. And that, my friends, is what Optimal Wellness is all about.

We’ve already talked about how empathy and reciprocity figure into the equation. I experienced empathy first hand through my panic attack in Waco. First with my family and friends, who got me to the hospital, then with the hospital staff themselves. After all the more serious physical causes, like a heart problem, were ruled out, I half expected them to dismiss my symptoms and to send me on my way, as though it was all in my head.

They did nothing of the sort. Instead, they asked about and reflected my feelings and needs. They recognized that regardless of their origin, my symptoms were real and worthy of respect. I appreciated their empathy. It immediately made me feel better.

I also appreciated the caring, concern, and assistance of my family and friends. You can bet I would do the same for them, or anyone else who was close by, in a heartbeat. That’s reciprocity.

But honesty is also part of the equation when it comes to Optimal Wellness. To pretend is only to make matters worse, whether it comes to our health and wellness or to any other aspect of life and work. We are charged to be honest with each other in the spirit of true love.

I like the notion of “true love” so much better than “tough love.” Tough love is usually an excuse for blasting someone with your opinion about the things they are doing wrong or the things they need to change. Unfortunately, such love is sometimes equated with coaching, as though the role of the coach is to beat up on people until they get going or get their act together.

Multiple studies reveal that that approach is never lastingly effective. It may work for a while (usually about two weeks), but then its impact begins to fade as the lack of true love takes its toll.

True love works because it is not afraid to share what is there, but always in the spirit of up-building and uplifting. In fact, it is more about vulnerability than toughness. There is a certain transparency in true love that is lacking in tough love. By sharing what is there, with the artful use of listening, inquiry, and reflections, we generate more hope and movement than is possible in any other way.

So my hope in sharing honestly with you the story of my surprising trip to the ER is to give you permission to be honest about your own feelings and needs and to seek the assistance that is right for you. Sooner or later, we all need assistance. Some of us need assistance all the time. Others need assistance only on occasion. Still others prefer alternative practices than traditional medicine (I, for one, take a complimentary approach).

Whatever may be your situation, recognize that assistance is part of the human condition. No one makes it through life alone. No animal has a longer infancy, and no animal has more complicated social relations, than the human animal. We are unique in the extent to which we need each other.

That’s why I see benevolence as so important to Optimal Wellness. Apart from benevolence, there’s no way to create and to sustain a wonderful life. Whether we do that for our family and friends, or whether we do that for total strangers, it takes a village to make life wonderful.

So move to the village called benevolence! Connect with people who desire to do good and to make life more wonderful. Keep your eyes open and attentive for opportunities to express true love. Don’t be afraid to ask for or to lend a helping hand. The more honest we are with each other, the better life will be.

Coaching Inquiries: Be honest • how are you feeling right now? Who could lift your spirits or otherwise render assistance? What would it take for you to find the courage to ask? How could benevolence become a more frequent companion on the trek of life?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


Thanks again for this wonderful Provision, How To Be Happy. I have read it now all three times, each time with different circumstances in my life therefore with a different perspective. As you said at the beginning, it is an ongoing pursuit.


I would like to ask your permission to include your superb How To Be Happy insights in my coaching newsletter with full attribution to you of course. It is a wonderful range of insights to share. (Ed. Note: Permission granted! Just be sure to reference LifeTrekCoaching.com. Thanks.)


Good article; reminds me of the fruits of the spirit in Gal 5:22


Your last Provision on How To Be Happy was a wonderful article that has touched and put my mind in the right direction to be able to bulldoze through life. Thanks for this wonderful piece.


Regarding the hint you gave, as to your age on your last birthday. I say you’re 35, and here’s how it works. Your daughter is a gifted prodigy • she graduated HS at 10, completed 4 years of college in 2.5 and medical school in 2! Most people on your LifeTrek list did not know that about your daughter! Happy belated. I don’t even try to remember birthdays anymore. The belated cards are funnier! Have a great week!


Keep up the great works in Provisions. Thanks for your support and influence in the coaching world.


I very much enjoy reading Provisions. This poem you sent by Oriah Mountain Dreamer had many inspirational segments. I actually used it to bolster the courage of myself and a friend in an adventure we stepped into this week. However there was a verse I can’t follow. The words were, “I want to know if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.” What do you suppose that means? (Ed. Note: I suppose it means that sometimes we have to be faithless to others in order to be true to ourselves. What do you think?) 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #542: How To Be Happy

Laser Provision

For the third time in three years I am sending out my Provision on “How To Be Happy.” It is, after all, a perennial pursuit. But each time, I add a little more to the mix. The first time I sent it out was in July of 2005, as the conclusion to my series on the twelve embraces that make for a wonderful life. I sent it out again one year ago, in advance of Halloween, to turn our thoughts from ghostly and ghastly things to the things that make for goodness and peace. Now, in the midst of my series on benevolence, I want to add a few words and send it out again. I think you will find it to be as relevant now as when it first came out. Enjoy!

LifeTrek Provision


First, I want to thank everyone who sent me birthday greetings on Friday. It was a pleasant surprise. I had a great day with family and friend. I’ll let you decide whether I’m 35 or 53 (hint: my daughter is a medical doctor doing her residency in Los Angeles).

Second, I want to resurrect my Provision on how to be happy. Given our long trek through the factors that make for Optimal Wellness, the answer to that question may seem obvious: eat right, exercise regularly, rest well, manage stress, and care about something other than yourself. The more you pour out your heart for worthy causes, the more meaning and significance you will find in life and work. I call that benevolence: the desire to do good and to make life more wonderful for one and all.

The problem is that it’s far easier to talk and write about those things than to actually do them. I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to letting things slide in the interest of one more email or one more project. Unfortunately, the tendency to be productive has a way of catching up with us. Especially in this 24-7 world of hurry-hurry, do-it-now. So perhaps it’s time to revisit this Provision, only now in the context of benevolence.

If we want to be happy, if we want  to do good and to make life more wonderful for one and all, then we would do well to make the following twelve shifts on the trek of life:

1. Avoid Control / Embrace Freedom. As human beings we have a natural desire to control things. And over the millennia we have developed a wide variety of control systems, including magic, religion, politics, and science. But sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, those systems fail to work. Sometimes, the panacea fails to cure, the security fails to protect, and the foam insulation still flies off the fuel tank. To think we can control the course of life is magical thinking that we best give up if we hope to promote spiritual wellness.

Better to embrace freedom instead. Freedom from attachment to particular outcomes, from addiction to particular practices, and from adherence to particular illusions. We must intentionally give these up if we hope to be spiritually well. And to stay well it takes more than just intention. It takes the assistance of other people and of the Great One to complete the past and to move forward in freedom. For all its uncertainty, the way of freedom is a better way to be.

2. Avoid Cynicism / Embrace Possibility. Once we give up on our ability to control particular outcomes, it’s easy for the pendulum to swing all the way over to cynicism. “Why bother!” we exclaim. “If there are no systems that are guaranteed to work, then why strive for anything at all? Better to just live for the moment, since tomorrow we may die.”

Although living in the moment is an important part of mindfulness, to stop striving for anything is to ignore the possibility that human beings do have a natural ability to influence things. Just because nothing works all of the time does not mean that nothing works any of the time. In fact, the possibilities are limitless. Spiritual wellness brings this awareness to the forefront. We approach life not with guarantees as to what the future holds but with confidence as to what holds the future.

3. Avoid Manipulation / Embrace Mindfulness. Unfortunately, this confidence can incline us to manipulation. We may not be able to control the future, but perhaps we can beg or barter our way to the top. “Do me this one favor,” we promise the Great One, “and I’ll be good.” But the Great One cuts no deals. Not even “the power of positive thinking” can make everything turn out all right. As it turns out, positive thinking is not very powerful at all.

But that doesn’t mean we should stop thinking or paying attention to life. Indeed, paying attention is a powerful spiritual practice. Instead of trying to control life with the power of mind over matter, we seek to notice life with the attention of mind to matter. Instead of whining about life because it doesn’t conform to our expectations, we engage with life as it proceeds in the here and now. The more mindful we become in the present moment, the more opportunities we will discover to move forward in the direction of our dreams.

4. Avoid Pessimism / Embrace Responsibility. While the cynic questions whether anything will ever work out, the pessimist knows that nothing will ever work out. In some cases, that’s because pessimists blame the world. In other cases, that’s because they blame themselves. Either way, they suffer from what M. Scott Peck calls “disorders of responsibility,” taking on either too little or too much responsibility to be spiritually well.

Better to embrace the ability to respond, regardless of what comes our way. In good times and bad, we can be responsible. But don’t confuse this with being accountable. Accountability is about answering for something, as in taking the credit or the blame. Responsibility is about engaging with something, as in giving our best selves to every situation. In both challenging and comfortable times, we can take responsibility for life. 

5. Avoid Distraction / Embrace Silence. There are many things that can distract us from examining our lives. Some of us live at a frenetic pace, allowing precious little time for reflection and planning. Others are numbed by chemical and social mendicants, such as alcohol or television. Still others have never learned to appreciate the value of critical thinking. Whatever may be your distraction, Socrates was right when he observed that “an unexamined life is not worth living.”

That’s because we have to go deep if we want to give our lives a sense of meaning and purpose. These things do not emerge without some measure of wrestling and contemplation. So finding moments of silence, both short and long, becomes an important spiritual discipline. There we can learn to release our fears and to approach others with gratitude. There, in the absence of noise, we can learn the truth about ourselves and about our place in the family of things.

6. Avoid Exclusivity / Embrace Diversity. It’s easy to get seduced by the word “exclusive.” It sounds so attractive, favorable, and special. From exclusive offers to exclusive communities, we find ourselves drawn to privileges and perks. But this is not the road to life. Exclusivity does more harm than good. It sets people up, one against the other, in competitive us-versus-them relationships. It tears at the fabric of human community and undermines our ability to be spiritually well.

Better to embrace diversity as though the whole human family were of one body, mind, and spirit. “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once noted in a sermon, “but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters. Our abundance has brought us neither peace of mind nor serenity of spirit.” That comes only when we learn to embrace the rich multidimensionality of the human community as not just a fact of life but as a positive value to be celebrated and encouraged.

7. Avoid Anxiety / Embrace Mystery. We live in an age of anxiety. Troubles and terrors, both of natural and human origin, are real. But that does not mean we can afford to live from that anxiety. Not only is anxiety unproductive, it undermines creativity, obscures possibility, and negates temerity. It brings us up short in the game of life.

Which is especially unfortunate given the mysterious way things have of working out. What may, at first, seem to be a catastrophe often appears, in hindsight, to be a blessing. Indeed, the very nature of our quantum universe argues against anxiety, which is itself a remnant of the Newtonian principles of cause and effect. If that’s the only way things happen, then we have reason for anxiety. But if the universe can jump natural barriers, respond to subtle energies, and generate synchronicities then we can embrace mystery as our way of being in the world.

8. Avoid Aimlessness / Embrace Hope. It’s hard to say what represents the most frequent reason people come to coaching. Many, of course, want assistance to make their dreams come true. Many others, however, want assistance to remember their dreams. Life has become an aimless routine of getting up and going through the motions. There is little to no engagement with a personal or professional sense of cause. As a result, life has become empty, flat, and devoid of meaning.

Enter the mystery of hope. Working with a coach is itself an act of hope. The notion that we can together discern the themes and dreams of a person’s life implies that we believe they are there, even when they are buried. Learning to manifest those themes and dreams is yet another act of hope. It is to come from the place that believes we can make a difference in the world, even if we sing as but one solitary voice. Even when the odds are stacked against success, hope enables us to make a strong and vital witness to the things we hold dear.

9. Avoid Superiority / Embrace Humility. Just as confidence in what holds the future can incline us to manipulation, so can hope incline us to a superiority complex. We can become so certain of our witness that we can bowl people over along the way. We start showing off, taking credit, and demanding privileges for all that we do, say, have, and are. But this is not the way of true mastery and it sows the seeds of our own demise.

Remembering that there are no guarantees in life, that we exercise influence rather than control, it is both more appropriate and more effective to become a humble witness to the things we hold dear rather than a haughty one. No one enjoys people with an attitude! But humble people, who know the ground from which they come and the shoulders on which they stand, attract the energy that makes their hopes and dreams come true. They don’t boast of what they know; in fact, they hardly notice what they know as they seek to give themselves away in service to others.

10. Avoid Inferiority / Embrace Beauty. But humility is not to be confused with inferiority. Humble people do not think poorly of themselves, they just don’t think of themselves. And they certainly don’t think poorly of others. Inferiority breeds failure since it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think, feel, speak, act, and pray as though you don’t have what it takes to make things work, then things won’t work. If all you can see is impossibility, then nothing is possible. If you deny your access to intuition and instinctive intelligence, then you won’t notice the things that make for success.

Embracing beauty is an antidote for inferiority. No matter how poorly you think of yourself or the world in which we live, noticing beauty will lift your spirits and move the human community in the direction we need to go. Sometimes beauty is easy to see, especially when we are surrounded by nature, art, culture, and love. Other times we have to look hard, such as when we suffer the indignities and shattering blows of life. Either way, beauty is always there for the noticing and doing so makes all the difference in the world.

11. Avoid Scarcity / Embrace Justice. In a world that’s drowning in a sea of abundance, where self-storage has become a bigger industry than the motion-picture industry, it’s hard to believe that people still suffer from a scarcity mentality. But this mentality • that there just isn’t enough to go around • lies behind the practices and policies of many institutions, movements, and people in the world today. Time, money, energy, and love are all viewed as limited commodities that need to be traded and protected carefully.

So instead of pursuing justice for all, we end up pursuing justice for some. We can’t even see the perspective of oppressed peoples, global ecology, and world peace since these things threaten to undermine our standard of living and our sense of security in the world. But what if our standards are the very things that contribute to our insecurity? Spiritual leaders the world over, from every tradition, have long made this connection. Apart from justice, there is no chance for wellness of any sort to flourish and prosper.

12. Avoid Selfishness / Embrace Love. Selfishness is the personal manifestation of scarcity thinking. Lest we fail to have, do, or be enough, we hoard everything that comes our way. “More, more, more” and “mine, mine, mine” become our mantras. We can even come to justify this in terms of extreme self-care. Unless we take good care of ourselves, we reason, we can’t take good care of others. So we live selfishly with the hope that it will somehow benefit one and all.

Fortunately or unfortunately, that’s not the way the world works. Self-care is not a product of selfish living but a byproduct of pursuing generosity, justice, peace, and love. These are the things that make for spiritual wellness and all other forms of wellness. The more we extend ourselves for others, not because of who they are and what they can do for us but because of who we are and what we can do for them, the more joy we will find in life and love. 

These, then, are the twelve shifts that make for happiness: from control to freedom, from cynicism to possibility, from manipulation to mindfulness, from pessimism to responsibility, from distraction to silence, from exclusivity to diversity, from anxiety to mystery, from aimlessness to hope, from superiority to humility, from inferiority to beauty, from scarcity to justice, and from selfishness to love. These are the things that make life worth living. The more we incorporate them into our daily living the more we will contribute and the closer we will be to the Great Spirit of life.

Coaching Inquiries: Which of these shifts do you practice most regularly? Which ones do you practice only occasionally? Which ones would you like to practice more? How could you make all of them more a part of your life?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


I recently read about the “Four Levels of Happiness.” They sure fit with this Provision.

Level 1: Immediate Gratification.
We all know about this one. “You’re worth it! Get it now! Why wait, you deserve it.” The benefit to Level 1 happiness is that it usually works … for a while. When the good feelings wear off, though, we can often find ourselves emptier than before. If we’re honest, we usually “live” at Level 1 when we are trying to feel better about ourselves or to avoid or subdue our fears. It’s a pretty shallow happiness. 

Level 2: Gratification Through Achievement.
This one is less self-centered than Level 1. We are using our talents to achieve goals, to accomplish something good. There will be some short-term gain and we can experience a sense of success. If we remain here, though, we can become fearful of failure, isolated, jealous, and cynical. Happiness becomes something to be worked at endlessly. After years of this, the burden can become overwhelming. 

Level 3: Gratification Through Contribution.
In this level we take our eyes off ourselves and begin serving others, helping to meet their needs. The benefits of this kind of living can far outweigh more self-centered tendencies. We begin to see ourselves as part of a community, able to make a real difference in the lives of others. Our own happiness increases as we stop grasping for it. And finally … 

Level 4: Transcendent Gratification.
We are now living for a purpose that is larger than us, something truly worthy of a life, worthy of our life. We seek the happiness and joy of others by giving our energy to justice, peace, beauty, love. We are living for something that will outlast us, something that will contribute to many, many lives, not simply our own.

We call it “transcendent” because it gets us in touch with that which is beyond us. Those who are happiest become the kind of people that naturally use their signature strengths, in a virtuous fashion to make a contribution. I commonly see people who gain power, control and money in their business lives thinking this will make them happy. Most of them will tell you it’s an illusion. Those who don’t, haven’t thought about it.


The poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Invitation, moved me. I will copy it and keep it close by.



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #541: What’s Your Calling?

Laser Provision

What’s your calling? That’s a different question than what’s your job? Your calling has to do with the difference you seek to make and the legacy you seek to leave in the world. Today I share with you a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Invitation, that may inspire you to greatness. I hope it does.

LifeTrek Provision


Since I am travelling this week to lead a seminar in Dallas on the use of Appreciative Inquiry to revitalize schools, I thought I would share with you a well-known poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. Oriah spoke to the International Coach Federation (ICF) Annual Conference when we met in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2000, soon after this poem was published in her book by the same name, The Invitation. It was inspiring then; it is inspiring now. In fact, you can hear her tell the story herself by ordering the ICF presentation. Enjoy!

The Invitation • 1999 by
Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon…
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shriveled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
•Yes.•

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.

Coaching Inquiries: What’s your calling in life? Can you be alone with yourself? Can you sit bear the pain and share the joy of life? How can you make a difference that celebrates and reflects your values? Who can walk with you on the journey?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


In your last Provision, The Reciprocity Factor, you mentioned Ken Medema. Do you know him? He is amazingly gifted! A wonderful human being and musician. I love his stuff. You continue to delight me with your thinking, connections and insights. 🙂 (Ed. Note: I do know Ken; in fact, he and I share the same birthday • this coming Friday • separated by a decade. I agree that Ken’s gifts are amazing. Thanks for asking.)


As we approach the Holy and Yule Season, here is my prayer for you and your readers: that you shine and inspire the children who will come to know joy because they have witnessed it in you. To quote Marianne Williamson, from her book, A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of god that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we•re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #540: The Reciprocity Factor

Laser Provision

It takes a village, they say, to raise a child. That’s because it takes a village to do just about anything. Human beings, as well as other animals, are not lone rangers. We depend upon each other for the meeting of needs. That’s why empathy is so important: it helps us to understand the needs and it moves us to action. But life is not a one-way street. There’s a give-and-take that we best heed if we hope to not only survive, but to thrive. We call that give-and-take the reciprocity factor. Read on to see how it works.

LifeTrek Provision


It’s only appropriate that I would move from empathy to reciprocity, the third factor of Optimal Wellness, on the weekend after the US holiday of Thanksgiving. The story of Thanksgiving is fundamentally a story of empathy (the respectful understanding of feelings and needs) followed by giving and reciprocity (the respectful exchange of goods and services). The fact that such a story could take place between two radically different cultures with different languages and different values should come as no surprise to those who have been following our series on evolutionary wellness. They are literally built into our genes.

For those readers outside the USA who may not know the story, Thanksgiving all goes back to the early seventeenth century when English settlers were seeking to establish communities in North America. Long before those settlers were numerous and strong enough to take what they wanted by force of arms, they had to rely on the natural human tendency to empathize and to reciprocate accordingly.

That happened most dramatically with the Pilgrims in 1621 in what is today the State of Massachusetts. With the help of Squanto, a Native American and former British slave, they learned how to catch eel, grow corn, and communicate with the Wampanoag people. Immediately after their first harvest, the Pilgrims held an autumn celebration of feasting and thanksgiving. They invited leaders of the Wampanoag to join them, which turned out to be a wonderful albeit fleeting moment of cross-cultural celebration.

Other such early celebrations underlie the modern US holiday of Thanksgiving which, since 1939, has been celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. It’s a meaningful (and sometimes stressful) time of reunion for family and friends, regardless of how the past year has gone. In good and bad times, one can always find reason to look up, give thanks, and sing. To quote the blind musician, Ken Medema, in his stirring 1994 song “Dance in the Dragon’s Jaws“:

Ever since the dawn of creation people dance in celebration
In the good times and in the bad seasons
People dance for a thousand reasons
So, get out of your seat, get up, upon your feet
Don’t worry about your circumstance, just dance

At which point Ken slides his way into a rousing version of the Hokey Pokey. That really is what it’s all about: to find reason to give thanks, no matter what. To empathize with feelings and needs, whether in joy or sorrow, and then to reciprocate with the goods and services that will make life more wonderful for one and all.

Reciprocity, at its best, has nothing to do with incurring or satisfying a debt. It’s just a matter of remembering to scratch the backs of those that scratch our own. Apart from such social networking, there is no chance for sustained health and wellness. That’s because everyone lives in and is the product of environments. When those environments are characterized by empathy and reciprocity, life is good. When those environments lack such life-enriching dynamics, everything becomes much more problematic, stressful, and difficult. In the end, even our physical health gets compromised and ground down to increasingly low levels of functioning.

Human beings are not the only animals who demonstrate empathy and reciprocity. Consider the following passages excerpted from Frans de Waal’s recent book, Our Inner Ape:

“Mutual dependence is key. Human societies are support systems within which weakness does not automatically spell death. The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre opens his book Dependent Rational Animal by pointing out the extent of human vulnerability. During many life stages, especially when we are young and old, but also in between, we find ourselves in the caring hands of others. We are inherently needy.”

Too often that neediness is acknowledged only as a weakness. “During a public debate about the future of humanity,” for example, “a respected scientist ventured that in a couple of centuries we would gain full scientific control over our emotions. He seemed to be looking forward to the day! Without emotions, however, we would barely know what life choices to make, because choices are based on preferences, and preferences are ultimately emotional. Without emotions we wouldn’t store memories, because it’s the emotions that make them salient. Without emotions we would remain unmoved by others, who in turn would remain unmoved by us. We would be like ships sailing past each other.”

But that’s not how life works. Human beings, as well as other animals, do tend to move each other (empathy) and to make life better for each other (reciprocity). De Wall continues with an illustration and an explanation:

“Let us say that I helped you move a piano down the narrow stairs in your apartment building. Three months later, I’m moving myself. I call you to explain that I have a piano, too. If you wave me off with ‘Good luck with it!’ I may remind you of what I did for you, even though this would be aggravating. If you still don’t offer any help, I may explicitly mention the idea of tit-for-tat. I would find this most embarrassing. But if your response is ‘Oh, but I don’t believe in reciprocity!” this would be truly disturbing.”

“It would be an out-and-out negation of why we humans live in groups, of why we do each other any favors at all. Who would ever want to deal with you? Even if we understand that repaying a favor is not always possible (for example, if you have to be out of town the day I move, or if you have a bad back), it’s hard to understand anybody who openly denies quid pro quo. The denial makes you an outcast: someone lacking a crucial moral tendency.”

“When Confucius was asked if there was a single word that could serve as a prescription for all of one’s life, he arrived, after a lengthy pause at ‘reciprocity.’ This elegant, all-encompassing principle is a human universal, and biologists have a long-standing interest in its origins.”

De Wall goes on to describe numerous examples of reciprocity among chimpanzees and other animals, in both the positive (rewarding) and negative (punishing) senses. In every case, he notes the differential dynamics of in-group and out-group behavior. What is expected within the group (taking care of each other) is largely ignored or even contradicted outside the group. Getting beyond such narrow boundaries and tribal loyalties is, de Wall notes, “the great challenge of our time.” It is a challenge that may ultimately impact our very survival as a species.

If we hope to meet that challenge, it will be on the basis of empathy and reciprocity (what de Wall calls “the moral emotions”). These tendencies, developed over millions of years of evolution, are the very ones that can move us to caring, concern, and community.

In many ways, the connection between empathy and reciprocity is illustrated in this week’s Resilience Pathway by Christina Lombardo. It speaks of one person reaching out to another with gratitude and grace. That is what life looks like, at its best. You help me. I thank you. We all feel great. And then we do it all over again. May that be the spirit in your heart, not only on Thanksgiving Day, and not only with friends and family, but with every being on the planet.

In her Pathway, Christina mentions the International Coach Federation’s Annual Conference which took place this year in Long Beach, California. One of our keynote speakers was Zainab Salbi, a 37-year-old woman who was herself the victim of war and violence in Iraq and the United States. But she did not remain a victim, she did not become vindictive, and she did not think only of herself. Instead, she saw her path of development through empathy and reciprocity with all women everywhere who suffer through the scourge of war and violence.

That solidarity led her, at the age of 23, to found an organization known as Women for Women International. She had no money when she started this organization, but it is today a $20 million-a-year operation that assists women in war-torn regions to “move from victim to survivor to active citizen.” You can read about the organization, lend your support, and join the movement by visiting www.womenforwomen.org. I encourage you to do so.

Salbi’s story is but one of many examples that epitomize what it looks like to take to heart de Wall’s counsel about “the great challenge of our time.” It is, in the end, not only the best way to live. It may well be, the only way to live.

Coaching Inquiries: How can you make life more wonderful, both for yourself and for others? Are there people who would appreciate your gratitude or assistance? How could you reciprocate in ways that everyone would celebrate? What could you do to make life more wonderful?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


In last week’s Provision, Pay Attention, you mentioned that your lawn mower blew up and that you then proceeded to buy a new one. If you switched to a mower that did not contribute to carbon emissions, you would never have to deal with one blowing up again. Or perhaps you might grow food or trees instead of a lawn. Before we understood the interrelated nature of our world, lawns became fashionable. When you think about it, putting drinking water on a plant you can’t eat that you burn fossil fuels to maintain and, God forbid, pesticides, no longer makes sense. For my part, I live consciously, so that the choices I make reflect my values. This has meant considerable lifestyle changes, for example: using much less air travel, driving alone in a car as infrequently as possible, and being a careful and minimal consumer. I would encourage you and your readers to do the same. (Ed. Note: Thanks for your concern, commitment, and compassion. I, too, live consciously and seek to follow your example.)


In Provision 495, The Resolution Revolution, you state: On a related note, 40% of all resolutions are successful the first time around while 17% will take at least six tries to reach success. I’ve included this statistic in a health column I’ve written, and the editor is asking for a source. Would you share the source for this statistic? (Ed. Note: That statistic comes from 1997: Click for Article. Let me know if you come up with anything more recent.) 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #539: Pay Attention

Laser Provision

Yesterday my lawn mower blew up. I mean I was just going along, mowing, minding my own business, enjoying the fall leaves, when all of a sudden a hole blew out the side of the engine and oil went splattering everywhere. What does that have to do with attention, empathy, and Optimal Wellness? I guess you’ll just have to read on to find out as I connect meditation, mowing, and moving three kids from a Russian orphanage to their new home in Chicago. Hint: it’s very much about Thanksgiving.

LifeTrek Provision


I was pleased with the response to last week’s Provision on Empathy Wiring. Many people were stimulated by the thought that empathy generates physical changes in the brain that can be detected by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines and that can change the function of the brain in enduring ways. The notion of empathy as brain food was apparently a new thought for many readers.

Interestingly, imagined empathy shows up in the same regions and has the same impact on the brain as actual empathy. It makes no difference, functionally, whether we are actually caring and connecting with someone or just imagining such a connection. They both work the same way: they increase the brain waves and circuits associated with perception, problem solving, and consciousness not to mention happiness. No wonder empathy feels so good.

To take advantage of empathy for your well being, whether imagined or actual, it all boils down to how we use and where we direct our attention. Attention is the currency of the empathy. That’s because attention means to notice, to observe, to watch, to concentrate, and to care. Attention lies somewhere in between distraction and derision. When we are distracted, we may fail to notice anything at all, let alone to notice the hidden things such as feelings and needs. There’s no way engage empathy without paying attention.

The other side of the spectrum, derision, may be even more dangerous. In distraction, we don’t even pretend to pay attention. In derision, we exercise selective attention in order to advance our agenda. We care about the other only in so far as it serves our purposes. We notice things in order to defend ourselves and to put people down. In derision, our attention is more about evaluation than observation. We are not curious and concerned about the feelings and needs of others; we are condescending and controlling.

Such dynamics, the exact opposite of empathy, are far too common and far too easy in the human experience. We take a quick look, make assumptions, and react on the basis of the WIIFM principle • What’s In It For Me? If we don’t like what we see, we lower the boom (when we have power) or run away (when we don’t have power). Fight and flight are not just the ways of the jungle; they are on full display in much of what passes for civilized society.

There is, however, another way and it comes down to paying attention. We suspend judgment in order to connect with the beauty of the need. Even when that need is being expressed in the most outrageous of ways, attention enables us to hear the need beneath the rage. That subtle shift, from judging the expression of the need to appreciating the need itself, is what empathy’s all about.

I was struck by how this worked in some of the journal entries that my wife sent back from Russia, while she was assisting our friend Jennifer to bring three young children, who spoke no English, from an orphanage in Stavropol to their new home in Chicago. Although you have read these before, Russian Diary and Russian Diary II, I would highlight the following salient passages when it comes to empathy, attention, and Optimal Wellness:

“Caring for children who do not speak English is not as difficult as I had feared. It is sort of how you communicate with a toddler, with pointing, gestures, and reading body language. Macha gets it that we don’t speak Russian and actively tries to find ways to help us understand. Sergei is kind of oblivious to that fact and rattles on at great length, telling us all about life in his world. Ksusha just seems pretty put out that two grown women can’t understand plain Russian! She rolls her eyes and repeats herself more loudly and emphatically.”

Talk about paying attention! It doesn’t take words to understand the language of empathy. All it takes is the intention to be supportive and the attention to make it so.

“A touching thing happened while we were in the lobby waiting to check in, which took a while. Figuring that the kids were probably getting hungry because it was after 8 PM, I pulled out a packet of cookies I’d saved from the plane. There were exactly three cookies, so I gave each of the kids one. But there was a smaller boy nearby who seemed to live at the hotel, maybe about two, who the kids had been playing with. Macha went over and gave him her cookie! She was able to find some other snacks that we’d brought, but I thought that it was very sweet that she waited to make sure that all of the younger kids were fed before she ate.”

Talk about a universal language! It doesn’t take 200 hours of communication training to get with another person. Even kids can do it. Perhaps that’s what Jesus meant when he said that we have to become like little children to be in heaven.

“This evening at the restaurant, after reprimanding the kids for playing with their soda pops, I turned and accidently knocked mine to the floor, making a big mess. Sergei laughed and then shook his finger at me, scolding “Nyet ma-ro-zih-na!” (No ice cream for you!). I did my best Sergei pout, which was apparently very funny because we played that game for a WHILE. But then the first thing he did when his ice cream arrived was to take a spoon and offer me a bite.”

Talk about a healing balm! Empathy is not a one-way street. The more we extend empathy to others, not to mention a little humor and playfulness, the more they extend empathy to us. What goes around comes around, especially when it comes to paying attention.

“Then Macha’s Little Mermaid balloon sailed into balloon heaven. Oh dear! Such weeping and gnashing of teeth! Such pitiful begging for another balloon! And, the injustice of being refused! Thus began a tremendous performance. All to no great effect. The audience just kept right on strolling and chatting as if this terrible tragedy had not befallen the heroine of our drama! Insult added to injury!

After a while the strolling led us to a restaurant, and Macha had the good sense to turn off the waterworks, and tried out her best pout to see if that might work better. She pouted through the hot towels on the little dishes and missed that experience. She pouted through the ordering of Coca Cola, and missed out on that. But then the other kids discovered that the table had come equipped with little sticks inside a paper wrapping. It got harder to maintain a good pout through that, but at least she managed to play sullenly with the little sticks. But even the most ardent of pouts has its breaking point, and when the food arrived and it turned out those little sticks were for eating …Well, this just had to be tried!” 

Talk about hearing the needs! Empathy is not about being nice, giving in, and getting run over. Empathy is about discerning what will make life more wonderful for people. In this case, Megan and Jennifer set boundaries without reacting to Macha’s behavior or denying her need for fun. Eventually, she came around, connection was reestablished, and the good times returned.

“The kids all tend to look out for each other. Jennifer has been taking the kids out, one by one, on little excursions to the grocery store. This afternoon, when the excursions began, Macha figured that, according to her calculations, she ought to be first. Unfortunately, her means of expressing that desire dropped her into second place. When Ksusha returned and Macha discovered that getting ice cream was part of the deal, she was all the more incensed that she•d missed out on her opportunity to be first. Even more unfortunately, her means of expressing her dismay dropped her out of the running for a trip to the store all together. Sergei trotted off happily in her stead. When he got to the ice cream freezer, however, he dug in his heels and absolutely refused to leave the store without an ice cream bar for Macha.”

Talk about the end game! To everything there is a season, a time to learn and a time to laugh. It appears Jennifer understands this rhythm, and so do children. In the face of competing needs, it’s easy for behavior to swing wildly from one expression to another. In the end, however, solidarity rules the roost. Love is life’s greatest lesson.

“There are few sights in life as precious as that of a child’s face transfixed in wonder. We got our money’s worth on that score tonight at the Moscow Circus. It was a great show and the kids loved it. Macha howled with laughter at the antics of the clowns, Ksusha watched with her mouth agape at the high-wire act, and when the tigers came out, Sergei was not only on the edge of his seat, he slipped right off the edge to squat in the aisle with his chin on the seat in front of him (which fortunately had a very small occupant)! The biggest grins of the evening were saved, however, for after the show, when we got to sit on a real camel and have our pictures taken!”

Talk about simple pleasures! Needs are not that complicated. We all have the same ones, and there is no hierarchy. Survival, transcendence, protection, well-being, interdependence, autonomy, empathy, honesty, meaning, and regeneration (to mention only a few). These are things that make life worth living, and people reach out for them in all times and places. When they get satisfied, life is good, smiles come, and all is well with our soul. Can’t you just feel that in Megan’s final description of the great homecoming?

“When our last plane touched down for the last time, Macha’s eyes popped open and she looked up at me with a happy grin. ‘Amereeca?’ she asked. ‘Cheecago in Amereeca?’ When I nodded yes, she clapped her hands in delight!”

“When we finally got to Jennifer’s house, the kids excitedly looked around the house, checked out the front yard, and then the backyard. That all seemed wonderful enough. But when they got to their rooms, Oh, that was magical! Their eyes were wide with the shelves of toys, the canopy loft beds for the girls, the jungle theme bedroom for Sergei, the closets and drawers full of new clothes! They happily explored their new world for the rest of the afternoon. At the end of the day, when I went upstairs to kiss them Good Night and Good Bye, on each of their faces there was a calm, happy glow of contentment. They were finally home.”

Now I don’t know about you, but that moves me to tears. Empathy will do that. It wires our brains for love. And that is an essential part of Optimal Wellness. Far too many health and fitness programs stop with nutrition, exercise, and stress management. Those are important, to be sure, and the LifeTrek Optimal Wellness Prototype covers those bases. But all the nutrition, exercise, and stress management in the world will not make life more wonderful if they are not set against a backdrop of benevolence.

Benevolence • the intention and action to help others • is empathy both real and imagined. The intention comes from the heart, as we seek to pay attention to what others are feeling and needing without judgment, impatience, or demand. The action comes from will, as we exercise the discipline and make the effort to put our intentions to work.

So what does all this have to do with my lawn mower, that blew up yesterday as I was mowing the lawn? It was blowing wisps of white smoke, a sign of burning oil, from the time I started it up. I noticed the smoke, but I did not dig any deeper. I did not stop to see if the mower had any needs • like oil • that I could respond to with empathy and action. Instead, I just kept on mowing until the mower blew up.

Now it may have blown up anyway. It was an older mower and it clearly had some oil, judging from what blew out from the side of the engine. But it may be that my failure to “pay” attention, to take the time and energy to figure out what was going on, led to my little calamity (which took about four hours and a significant amount of money to diagnose and recover from • I bought a new mower — far more time, energy, and money than the initial “paying” of attention would have required).

That’s the way it is with empathy. We think we don’t have time to pay attention to feelings and needs. We think we’re too busy, too important, too competent, too fragile, too upset, or too something to go down that road. And so we take the shortcut, which usually turns out to be longer, in the end.

So don’t do that. Pay attention. Take the time. Consider what others may be feeling and needing. Do it in the moment. Do it before the moment. Do it at the start and end of each day. Meditate with loving kindness in mind. Pick someone, contemplate their feelings and needs, imagine what would make life more wonderful for them, visualize a smile on their face, then settle upon an affirmation of their being.

The Buddhist’s call that “loving kindness meditation.” Americans, on Thursday, will call it Thanksgiving. Macha, Ksusha, and Sergei just call it home.

Coaching Inquiries: To what extent do you pay attention to the feelings and needs of the people you live and work with? How could you pay more attention? Is there a specific person you’d like to start with? How could empathy meditation enhance your life? Who could assist you to establish a regular practice?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


I loved your last Provision on Empathy Wiring. It inspired me to start meditating again, with a new framework. The thought that meditation could rewire the brain, making it more vital and alive as we age, was stunning. Thanks for that! (Ed. Note: You may enjoy the Insight Meditation materials by Salzberg & Goldstein Amazon).


Thank you for providing such enlightening and enheartening content. The idea that we can actually change our brains is awesome and empowering. Even though this information is out in the world, you sharing it in with us in this context gives me even more motivation to wholeheartedly commit to focusing on meditation. Before I just thought it would be good for me, but now I know it can change all aspects of my being; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Thanks for the brain food!


I just finished reading today’s Provision on Empathy Wiring. I have also been following Megan’s adventures over the past while. I know I haven’t been in touch for such a long, long time and I apologize. The reason for this note is to say thank you for your gift of words. I know few people who are as prolific in their writing and produce on such a consistent basis. Your writings remind me so much of Thomas Leonard. The difference is that you go much deeper and tap into the feelings of life. Each week I know I can count on you to deliver thoughtful, insightful, and delightful writings. Thanks.


Have you heard about The Shift Movie? I can’t wait to see it. It sounds like it will be in the genre/format of “What the Bleep Do We Know?” I could use the encouragement this movie promises to offer. 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #538: Empathy Wiring

Laser Provision

Last week I attended the annual conference of the International Coach Federation in Long Beach, California. Two of the workshops focused on the neuroplasticity of the brain; that is, the ability of the brain to rewire itself in response to stimulation. Contrary to earlier notions of the brain as permanently set in childhood, scientists have now discovered that the brain is in continuous flux and development throughout our lives. Does that go for empathy as well? New research says it does. Read on to learn more.

LifeTrek Provision


I’ve written before about the ability of the brain to make new connections in response to stimulation. That’s why it’s good for me to write Provisions every week, for example, and for you to do crossword puzzles or Sudoku. Such mentally challenging activities grow new connections in the brain, which helps to keep us alive and vital.

The quality of our activities make a huge difference. Watching television, for example, does little to grow new neural pathways. Meditation, on the other hand, is off the charts when it comes to dramatic brain changes, especially those that support compassion and empathy. That’s the finding of researchers who have worked with seasoned meditators. The following passages, excerpted from the book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley and published earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal, make the case clear:

Although science and religion are often in conflict, the Dalai Lama takes a different approach. Every year or so the head of Tibetan Buddhism invites a group of scientists to his home in Dharamsala, in Northern India, to discuss their work and how Buddhism might contribute to it. In 2004 the subject was neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change its structure and function in response to experience.

The Dalai Lama, who had watched a brain operation during a visit to an American medical school over a decade earlier, asked the surgeons at that time a startling question: Can the mind shape brain matter?

Over the years, he said, neuroscientists had explained to him that mental experiences reflect chemical and electrical changes in the brain. When electrical impulses zip through our visual cortex, for instance, we see; when neurochemicals course through the limbic system we feel.

But something had always bothered him about this explanation, the Dalai Lama said. Could it work the other way around? That is, in addition to the brain giving rise to thoughts and hopes and beliefs and emotions that add up to this thing we call the mind, maybe the mind also acts back on the brain to cause physical changes in the very matter that created it. If so, then pure thought would change the brain’s activity, its circuits, or even its structure.

One brain surgeon hardly paused. Physical states give rise to mental states, he asserted; “downward” causation from the mental to the physical is not possible. The Dalai Lama let the matter drop. This wasn’t the first time a man of science had dismissed the possibility that the mind can change the brain. But “I thought then and still think that there is yet no scientific basis for such a categorical claim,” he later explained. “I am interested in the extent to which the mind itself, and specific subtle thoughts, may have an influence upon the brain.”

The Dalai Lama had put his finger on an emerging revolution in brain research. In the last decade of the 20th century, neuroscientists overthrew the dogma that the adult brain can’t change. To the contrary, its structure and activity can morph in response to experience, an ability called neuroplasticity. The discovery has led to promising new treatments for children with dyslexia and for stroke patients, among others.

But the brain changes that were discovered in the first rounds of the neuroplasticity revolution reflected input from the outside world. For instance, certain synthesized speech can alter the auditory cortex of dyslexic kids in a way that lets their brains hear previously garbled syllables; intensely practiced movements can alter the motor cortex of stroke patients and allow them to move once paralyzed arms or legs.

The kind of change the Dalai Lama asked about was different. It would come from inside. Something as intangible and insubstantial as a thought would rewire the brain. To the mandarins of neuroscience, the very idea seemed as likely as the wings of a butterfly leaving a dent on an armored tank.

= = = = =

Neuroscientist Helen Mayberg had not endeared herself to the pharmaceutical industry by discovering, in 2002, that inert pills • placebos • work the same way on the brains of depressed people as antidepressants do. Activity in the frontal cortex, the seat of higher thought, increased; activity in limbic regions, which specialize in emotions, fell. She figured that cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which patients learn to think about their thoughts differently, would act by the same mechanism.

At the University of Toronto, Dr. Mayberg, Zindel Segal and their colleagues first used brain imaging to measure activity in the brains of depressed adults. Some of these volunteers then received paroxetine (the generic name of the antidepressant Paxil), while others underwent 15 to 20 sessions of cognitive-behavior therapy, learning not to catastrophize. That is, they were taught to break their habit of interpreting every little setback as a calamity, as when they conclude from a lousy date that no one will ever love them.

All the patients’ depression lifted, regardless of whether their brains were infused with a powerful drug or with a different way of thinking. Yet the only “drugs” that the cognitive-therapy group received were their own thoughts.

The scientists scanned their patients’ brains again, expecting that the changes would be the same no matter which treatment they received, as Dr. Mayberg had found in her placebo study. But no. “We were totally dead wrong,” she says. Cognitive-behavior therapy muted overactivity in the frontal cortex, the seat of reasoning, logic, analysis and higher thought. The antidepressant raised activity there. Cognitive-behavior therapy raised activity in the limbic system, the brain’s emotion center. The drug lowered activity there.

With cognitive therapy, says Dr. Mayberg, the brain is rewired “to adopt different thinking circuits.”

= = = = =

Such discoveries of how the mind can change the brain have a spooky quality that makes you want to cue the “Twilight Zone” theme, but they rest on a solid foundation of animal studies. Attention, for instance, seems like one of those ephemeral things that comes and goes in the mind but has no real physical presence. Yet attention can alter the layout of the brain as powerfully as a sculptor’s knife can alter a slab of stone.

That was shown dramatically in an experiment with monkeys in 1993. Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, rigged up a device that tapped monkeys’ fingers 100 minutes a day every day. As this bizarre dance was playing on their fingers, the monkeys heard sounds through headphones. Some of the monkeys were taught: Ignore the sounds and pay attention to what you feel on your fingers, because when you tell us it changes we’ll reward you with a sip of juice. Other monkeys were taught: Pay attention to the sound, and if you indicate when it changes you’ll get juice.

After six weeks, the scientists compared the monkeys’ brains. Usually, when a spot on the skin receives unusual amounts of stimulation, the amount of cortex that processes touch expands. That was what the scientists found in the monkeys that paid attention to the taps: The somatosensory region that processes information from the fingers doubled or tripled. But when the monkeys paid attention to the sounds, there was no such expansion. Instead, the region of their auditory cortex that processes the frequency they heard increased.

Through attention, UCSF’s Michael Merzenich and a colleague wrote, “We choose and sculpt how our ever-changing minds will work, we choose who we will be the next moment in a very real sense, and these choices are left embossed in physical form on our material selves.”

The discovery that neuroplasticity cannot occur without attention has important implications. If a skill becomes so routine you can do it on autopilot, practicing it will no longer change the brain. And if you take up mental exercises to keep your brain young, they will not be as effective if you become able to do them without paying much attention.

= = = = =

Since the 1990s, the Dalai Lama had been lending monks and lamas to neuroscientists for studies of how meditation alters activity in the brain. The idea was not to document brain changes during meditation but to see whether such mental training produces enduring changes in the brain.

All the Buddhist “adepts” • experienced meditators • who lent their brains to science had practiced meditation for at least 10,000 hours. One by one, they made their way to the basement lab of Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He and his colleagues wired them up like latter-day Medusas, a tangle of wires snaking from their scalps to the lectroencephalograph that would record their brain waves.

Eight Buddhist adepts and 10 volunteers who had had a crash course in meditation engaged in the form of meditation called nonreferential compassion. In this state, the meditator focuses on unlimited compassion and loving kindness toward all living beings.

As the volunteers began meditating, one kind of brain wave grew exceptionally strong: gamma waves. These, scientists believe, are a signature of neuronal activity that knits together far-flung circuits • consciousness, in a sense. Gamma waves appear when the brain brings together different features of an object, such as look, feel, sound and other attributes that lead the brain to its aha moment of, yup, that’s an armadillo.

Some of the novices “showed a slight but significant increase in the gamma signal,” Prof. Davidson explained to the Dalai Lama. But at the moment the monks switched on compassion meditation, the gamma signal began rising and kept rising. On its own, that is hardly astounding: Everything the mind does has a physical correlate, so the gamma waves (much more intense than in the novice meditators) might just have been the mark of compassion meditation.

Except for one thing. In between meditations, the gamma signal in the monks never died down. Even when they were not meditating, their brains were different from the novices’ brains, marked by waves associated with perception, problem solving and consciousness. Moreover, the more hours of meditation training a monk had had, the stronger and more enduring the gamma signal.

It was something Prof. Davidson had been seeking since he trekked into the hills above Dharamsala to study lamas and monks: evidence that mental training can create an enduring brain trait.

Prof. Davidson then used fMRI imaging to detect which regions of the monks’ and novices’ brains became active during compassion meditation. The brains of all the subjects showed activity in regions that monitor one’s emotions, plan movements, and generate positive feelings such as happiness. Regions that keep track of what is self and what is other became quieter, as if during compassion meditation the subjects opened their minds and hearts to others.

More interesting were the differences between the monks and the novices. The monks had much greater activation in brain regions called the right insula and caudate, a network that underlies empathy and maternal love. They also had stronger connections from the frontal regions to the emotion regions, which is the pathway by which higher thought can control emotions.

In each case, monks with the most hours of meditation showed the most dramatic brain changes. That was a strong hint that mental training makes it easier for the brain to turn on circuits that underlie compassion and empathy.

“This positive state is a skill that can be trained,” Prof. Davidson says. “Our findings clearly indicate that meditation can change the function of the brain in an enduring way.”

Coaching Inquiries: What practices stimulate your brain? What supports your compassion circuits and empathy wiring? How could be more mindful of the things that make for peace?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


It sounds like you had an awesome experience with the Marine Corps Marathon in DC! The closest I can come to relating to that “Big” race was a 5K Race for the Cure in DC that I ran with my brothers and Dad years ago • though I remember the feeling like it was yesterday. I can almost imagine the energy and rush you must have felt. I’m glad to hear you had the support of family and friends.

PS • My game? I think it’s the “How can I make a difference in the world game?” 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services