Open Questions

I like this Poem by Marcia Falk

Open Questions

Opening to the world, does the self open to itself?  Or

Must the world be shut out to make room for the self?   Which will be here last?

Do self and world need each other to exist?  Are they separate or parts of a single whole?  Or are they one and the same?

What are the questions we need to ask?

What are the questions we don't yet know to ask?

Your Creative Side: Muse or Madness?

Imagine, you are talking to an artist and she says, “you don’t understand me, I have no choice, I must create a work of art.  I have to.  That is how it goes. "

The creative voice that speaks, whispers loud and clear, is called a Muse.  Some people call it an inner voice of creative genius, or attending a spirit guide.  (The word “genius” comes from the word “genie.”  Yes, the same genie in a bottle you may have seen who grants wishes and advice).

The Muse is more active in youth, she shouts, screams, and demands to be expressed.  This is knowledge you will not find in most school curriculum: The study of creativity as a process and development. As we get a older, the Muse may quiet down. Everything moves slower as we get older.  Like a garden that needs to be tended in order to produce fruit, it is good to tend the garden of your Muse on a daily basis.  Does that make you strange?   Are you someone who is creating words, art, dance, or music, or anything you love?  Yes, that makes you strange!   

If you are one of the lucky few, precious few, America’s brilliant few, unrecognized or recognized by others, do your thing!  Early morning, late at night, or anytime in-between.  Let the Muse matter.  I invite you to listen to your creative side when possible.   Take a shower together with your Muse and get wet.  Let her have her way with you, and let the world fall away.  Then stand back, and let your art fly.

There are many dimensions on the spectrum of creativity.  You can be outrageously and brashly talented from a young age, or quietly speaking your art beginning at a late age, or anything in between.  Sometimes creativity manifests in a commercial product and not so much for the sake of “art.”  Like “creative” Apple products breaking new ground.  That is a different kind of artist than a Picasso or Goethe.   The “Graphic artist”  is often commercial.  Questions is:  Can you listen to your Muse.

If you have an inner, creative voice, that speaks clearly, you are among those who can “hear” the Muse speak.  What language do you hear?  Sometimes intuitive whispers.  Sometimes shouts—yet, always a distinct inner voice that points toward creativity.

Let us say you hear that inner voice. Next question, do you have the discipline to practice everyday, doing something special, one thing, until you are extraordinary at doing it?   Discipline is doing, the same thing over and over for years (the same thing can be different every time- like writing or dancing). 

This is less about knowledge or knowing any quantity of study or being super smart.  (Though it is beneficial to study to learn).  Smart is very different than creative.  A successful writer, whose books sold millions, put it this way, “I never know what is going to happen next, when writing my books.  [I let it flow].  And it always works out.  It is like driving down a dark road.  You can only see as far as your headlights, but you keep going, and arrive at your destination.”

Marc Aronoff

Emotional Honesty

 By Marc Aronoff


The greatest obstacle to emotional honesty is fear. 

You may have seen this:  In the wonderful movie, Inside Out, about real-time emotions and how they act, Riley finally takes ownership of her sadness and is no longer in conflict with it.  She is free.  She is able to feel good about all her parts, including sadness, and is at one with herself. 

As a result of embracing and accepting her sadness, she experiences more joy and happiness and a better feeling about all her parts.  How strange:  by accepting something she does not like, she is happier.

As the famous Rabbi Dov Heller says, “The more we feel emotionally integrated the more we alive we feel.  The more at war we are with our feelings, the less alive we feel.  Emotional integration requires emotional honesty.  You can’t integrate a feeling you refuse to acknowledge.  The reason we do not acknowledge what we feel is because the meaning associated with it is too dangerous or threatening to face.”

For example, a boy named Owen wants to break up with his girlfriend Jennifer because he wants to date other girls.  Jennifer feels very upset, abandoned, and empty.  And her (now ex) boyfriend, triggers in her sadness and fear, because breaking up reminds her (perhaps unconsciously) of when her parents broke up.  Jenifer saw her father and mother get divorced five years earlier and it was horrible to experience.  Now, when her boyfriend want to break up, she is feeling totally overwhelmed. 

She has a few choices: 1. accept herself and the normal sadness of breaking up with someone and by doing this, letting the sadness move through, or 2. She can pretend everything is fine and stuff her feelings deep inside and perhaps get really mad at Owen and everyone else around her and act very upset.  It is easier to get mad at others, than to feel your sadness, let go, and give in. 

Sometimes, not always, try just letting go.  Do not try and be right or control anyone.  Say little, and care a lot.   It does not mean you are being passive.  This is a situation where you are safe but struggling with difficult emotions.  Stay in touch with your feelings.  See what happens if you accept your feelings as they are, no good or bad, no judgment, and then, let time take care of you. 

You may be surprised to see you feel better sooner than later.

As you become more emotionally compassionate with yourself and others, the more you become integrated and whole, and the more you can experience greater peace.

And being peaceful is a good thing.


6 Ways to be Mentally Tough

Stop Blaming Others.  Mentally tough people know how to take responsibility.  Sure, it easy to feel hurt because of other people’s actions or words.  However, mentally strong people know what is their responsibility and what is not.  Take responsibility for what is yours- including your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  Sometimes things happen that we have no control over, and the most we can hope for is to keep our head above water until the emotions subside.  But, you and only you are responsible for how you respond to life’s stresses.  Remember, self control = self esteem.  You will never see mentally tough people blaming others for messing up their day.  Instead, they take responsibility and accept their responses as their own.

Stop Taking Things Personally.  Mentally tough people strive to take nothing personal, even though it may seem and feel personal.  Whatever other people do or say is a reflection of their character, not necessarily yours. Where needy people see the world and its slights revolving around them, mentally tough people do not take themselves so serious as to think everything that happens is about them.  They recognize, other people have their own unique thoughts, feelings, and actions unrelated to anything personal.

Stop Predicting the Future. Mentally strong people know they cannot predict the future. There is a big difference between setting goals and the actions you will take to achieve those goals versus constantly living in a dream of the future.  How you handle this moment determines your next moment and ultimately, your future.  Focus on what is happening now and how you want to handle the present.  The future will follow without a doubt.

Let Go of Illusions. While we all love to dream, it takes more than a dream to make a dream come true.  More often than not, our dreams do not come true.  It is fine to “dream big” as long as you are incorporating and adapting to the information reality is providing.  Mentally tough people know when to fold and when to keep going.  If you are living in a fantasy world, more likely than not, you may be causing yourself more harm than good.  Denying what is not going so well, is a sure way to keep it going that way.   Never be afraid to take stock of your life and adapt your dreams as needed.

Let Go of the Past.  Mentally tough people know the past is gone.  And, while the past may inform our current feelings and  patterns, the present is where the future unfolds.  The question is, what future do you want to actualize?  You cannot drive a car in reverse for long.  Being human means we will experience losses. Mentally tough people accept the losses, and instead of wishing they could go back in time, they accept the present

Accept Success  This may sound mundane, or a given.  But , mentally tough people believe they are worthy of success.  There may be mistakes along the way, but are you truly ready to accept that right actions will lead to success.  Do you accept your unique talent and ability to cope?  

Becoming mentally tough is a hard earned battle — and one that is not won overnight. And while sometimes we have to learn how to fine tune our approach and leverage the adversity, sometimes we also have to learn how to get out of our own way.




What does it take to abuse another person?  We can talk about traditional definitions like violence, beatings, inappropriate touch, or mental violence like emotional manipulation or saying horrible things about a person.  All of that is abuse, to be avoided at all costs .  But, what about the abuse of putting ourselves down?  This is a kind of personal thought abuse.  

Thought abuse is saying or thinking to yourself  words like, “I hate myself.” “I am not  good enough.”  “I am stupid.  I am unlovable.”   “I hate everyone.”  Sometimes it happens when you are not paying attention and negative thinking can put you in a horrible mood.  Putting yourself down inevitably leads to putting others down.  Abuse of oneself is as dangerous as others who might abuse you.  The reality is, your relationship with yourself is more important than any other.  Do you like you?

Low self-esteem, feeling unworthy or frequently worried and anxious is a reality for many teens.  For some, feeling lonely and awkward is a daily struggle.  Unfortunately, not all teens are part of  a “popular” group.    

Negative self talk is what you say to yourself consciously or unconsciously, that puts you down and ultimately undermines your self esteem.  Sometimes this negative self talk is just below the surface and hardly noticeable to anyone.  Often born on shame and misbeliefs, negative self talk leads to negative self images, which breeds all other forms of abuse.  It is impossible to abuse anyone else, unless we first abuse ourselves.  Shame begins inwardly and then moves out in the world.  To deeply hate oneself or to feel unworthy and ashamed at a young age creates the  potential for future abuse and even crime.  I am not talking about experiencing a few low moods during the day, whereupon we are hard on ourselves.  There is a time and place for firm self talk, like, “I really messed up, this time.”   However, saying to yourself, “I will make some adjustments and do some things different next time” is quite different than, “I am stupid and always will be”…

Shame does not emerge from a vacuum.  It takes a destructive adult to instill the potent poison.  Sometimes we have genetic codes for depression, imbalance, or negativity and they will not “kick in”, until a certain age or intense life stress.  Still, for someone to feel ashamed, there is usually an external cause.  And, the original cause is often a parent, adult, or guardian who says or does something (on purpose or not) that over time harms a young child’s psyche.  Fast forward to today.   What if all our personal negativity is a lie of the mind?   Then, it is our life’s work to steer our thoughts for the better, while acknowledging and understanding our past. 

So the question is, how do you free yourself  from negative self talk?  Are you even aware of what messages you are sending your self on daily, moment-to-moment basis?   Self awareness begins with paying attention.  If you are feeling unhappy, you can help change that by changing your thoughts.  Growing up and finding a good, comfortable inside that shines outside, is no small task and many adults will say it is a lifelong process.  Yet, even though the world is full of disappointments, there comes a time when life tastes good and the tenderness and joy inside matches the tenderness and joy outside.  Self-esteem comes from inside-- from knowing yourself and the kind of person you are.  The essential ingredients are being good to your self, like cultivating acceptance, tolerance, and letting go of your negative thoughts and unreasonable expectations.  

For example, what is the last thought you have before falling asleep and feeling when you wake?  Are you positive or negative?  What is your intention for the day?  You can actually steer your thoughts!  Catch yourself and put yourself back on track.  Sure, it takes practice.  But the payoff is a You worth loving and being loved.

Without a loving You, there is no loving another. So here are some thoughts to live by:  love, life, and joy are your birthright.  And, even though it may seem everything is hard and no one is on your side, let go and trust, everything will work out for the best.  If your are a self talk abuser, why not make a vow to pay attention and change your tone? Remember you are more than your thoughts.  You are in charge of your thoughts. Feeling good is not about what someone else says to you.  It is about being okay with you—the imperfect, beautiful, loveable, mess that you may be.

Marc Aronoff

The Art of Being a Mess

This is a messy subject.  How does one approach the “Art” of being a mess when the very nature of being a mess is anti-Art?  “Art” implies finesse, centeredness, a manner worth noting as wise and forgiving.  Art (in the sense of behavior) may not always be “pretty”, but it is always clear and reflective.     

I am writing to the sometime messes of the world who care about personal transformation.   The problem is when a person is acting like “a mess” there is often little “Art” if that person is swept up in the distorting chaos of harmful thoughts, words, or actions.   The keyword here is harmful.  So, being a mess may be defined as acting and thinking in a way that is harmful to yourself or others.

There are big messes and little messes.   Some people become a big mess when reacting to something like a personal crises or a relationship break-up.  There are little messes, like when someone becomes upset when a friend does not call back or when things do not go as planned.   Most people, when feeling like a mess, can hide it long enough to get through the day; there is a certain politeness to their mess.  They may get their work done, have a smile on their face, and look fine, but on the inside, they may feel awful.

The art of being a mess comes down to cultivating certain qualities, in particular a certain willingness to become aware of and take responsibility for our feelings.  Becoming aware of how we are feeling, allows us to bring some grace and mindfulness to any situation.  Taking responsibility means steering the situation (like a ship in storm) until the messy feelings subside.  How a person handles the storm of emotions and finally returns to a feeling of balance is the Art of being a mess. Some people call it patience or skillful means.  In many ways, this is the ability to choose how you want to respond to yourself or others.

Another way to return to balance is to become aware of what you are saying to yourself in the background of your mind; that stream of thoughts and self-talk that is humming in your head.  What message are you giving yourself?   Negative self-talk can sustain a mess long after the storm has calmed down.  If you are focused, then your mind is on the task at hand.  That is why work can be like a vacation from your messy life, because you are required to focus on things other than yourself or personal problems.

The Art of Being a Mess is the Art of being aware of your messiness.   It is not enough to admit you are a mess, though forgiveness and apology may go a long way.   The Art of Being a Mess is how you transform yourself moment to moment.  When are you happiest and most secure?  Can you re-remember that feeling when you are insecure?  Sometimes we call this “self-soothing” which is a manner of self-care.   We may not be able to change the stormy weather around us, but we certainly can choose how to respond.  That is the Art of being a mess.

Marc Aronoff

The Good of Being up to "No Good"

Many teens today are up to “no good.”  With time on their hands, the wrong crowd, sexting, texting, living in the shadow of anxiety or fear, peer pressure, sex, drugs, rock and roll, or any other combination of amazing distractions, teens today are immersed in a potential mother-ship of mindlessness.  Yet, I believe with these ‘no good’ experiences comes the exquisite potential of American ingenuity, expedience, and resilience.  The defiant teen who struggles so valiantly to define her self, may become the innovative adult discovering a new cure or an exquisite artist touching the hearts of many.

What would our leading CEO’s and Politicians say about their teenage years?   Were they ever up to no good?   Success happens for many reasons, and often in spite of or as a result of, our being, on occasion, up to no good.  Indeed, being up to no good in varying degrees is a normal part of being a teenager.  The challenge is how to guide and steer these potential teenage pitfalls with the semblance of skillfulness.

To find the “good” within the “no good” let us broaden our definition of the “normal” teen from a moral construct to one of existential searching and parental stewardship.   It is no longer enough or even reasonable to expect our teens to live the moral life we project upon them.  Try as we may, sooner or later, teens will experiment.  And, this is normal.  From a developmental point of view, teenage mishaps are in the same garden as seeds of maturity, self awareness, and  accountability.  Is it possible there are seeds of good in the ‘no good’ actions of our teens?   Depends on your point of view.  Whatever good you cultivate from the realities of teen experimentation depends on your point of view.   Whether your adolescent knows it or not, you are the conductor of an ever changing teenage orchestral masterpiece.  And the orchestra has a mind of its own.  Are you up for the task of listening and guiding the sometimes dissonant sounds of your kid?  Interestingly, I have noticed parents who are in recovery themselves, seems to be extremely reactionary to accepting the idea of flexibility and healthy communication around teenage experimentation.  This makes sense, as they have seen the worst of an addiction.

It is  possible for both parents and teens to navigate the perils of adolescence with an outlook for reducing harm.  Known as the theory of harm reduction in counseling circles, the challenge is to carefully look at how you approach and respond to the “difficult” behavior of your teens and what they in turn learn from you.  While there are infinite variations in parenting styles, it is safe to conclude if parents are extremely intense or controlling, the results are often counter productive.  This is not to say there is a time for complete lock down and control of your teen, when needed.  But, hopefully you are not having to run your home like a prison.  There is a balance point which produces optimal effectiveness and by which you can honestly say, “I am mindful of my parenting style.”   Ideally, this leads to an interaction with your child based on mutual respect and impulse control.

Take teens who smoke marijuana, for example.  Can teens be smart about smoking pot, if they choose to smoke pot?   By smart, I mean making choices that reduce harm and increase personal success. The answer is a resounding yes!  In my book:  ONE TOKE:  A Survival Guide for Teens we explore this question in detail.  Studies have shown how teens smoke pot, the choices they make, (i.e., when and where they smoke), influences their risk for failure.[1]  Parents can be smart also in how they respond versus react to their teen’s pot smoking behavior.  Another way of saying ‘being smart’ is practicing ‘harm reduction’—which are actions and choices that reduce the chance of problems like getting poor grades at school or developing low self esteem.

While our teens may appear to be up to no good this is often (not always) the tenets of 2014’s teenage “normal” – a discovery process whereby adolescent’s explore their strengths and weaknesses, defining personal style, and laying the ground work for the ability to learn from mistakes, reframe, and renew. For teens, I imagine it is like learning how to emotionally walk in a hail storm of conflicting urges.  The theory of harm reduction postulates: there will be some normal range of adolescent struggles, errors and conflicts, however, with proper choices, the mistakes will be mitigated.  I am not talking about teens who are in so much  habitual “trouble” they are spiraling out of control.  That is another subject, another blog and requires significant intervention.

Regarding the potential of your teenager smoking pot, your communication style, authenticity, and directness are opportunities for harm reduction.  Utilizing a reasonable, cogent voice and having a two way (if possible) conversation when addressing the topic of teen pot smoking is a  communication style apt to reduce anxiety and fear while acknowledging the essential being of your child.  Teaching and practicing harm reduction exists on multiple levels and acts like emotional dental floss.  There is your verbal message:  sincere words and choice of language will ideally communicate a healthy respect for the shadow, difficult side of life, which in turn normalizes the adolescent’s feelings of potential shame and reinforces positive self esteem.   There is the non verbal message: (about 70% of all you communicate)- body language, tone of voice, whereupon you see, validate, and respect your teenager’s being through deep listening, eye contact, and validation.  Being may be defined as the essential nature of a human.  Acknowledging your teens being is quite different than acknowledging his or her actions. 

Sometimes I wonder if American teens lack a sense of “being” understood for their inherent goodness or “thusness” versus being constantly judged based on externals, like what is accomplished.  Certainly, teens need to “get the job done” when tasked.  However, the typical teen may be asked, “How are you?” countless times during a given day without any interest on the askers part for a sincere answer.  I have heard this phenomena described as “emotional junk food.”

Truth is, many adults are scared for the well being of their teens.  And, rightly so. Teens are prone to take risks more often than we want to admit.  Yet, once you perceive that your teen is up to “no good” it is your challenge to proceed decisively yet flexibly.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but restraining impulsive moral judgments while instead conveying safe and reasonable boundaries, choosing your words, tone, and body language, actually leads to improved mutual understanding and respect. This is practicing harm reduction.

So we see there is a certain “good” to teenage experimenting and testing of limits if and when parents meet the equation with soluble amounts of healthy communication, resolve, boundaries, and empathy.   One thing is for sure:  If  your teen wants to smoke pot, they will no matter what you say or do.

The issue may boil down to this:  How do you act if you catch your teen out at a party drinking or smoking pot; or if you catch your teen shop lifting or lying?  What is your style of communication by which you respond, react, or freak out at your teen’s shenanigans?  A theory of harm reduction proposes smart choices coupled with clear boundaries and guidelines reduces the potential for harm to self or others.  Harm reduction involves strategy and awareness.  Sometimes it is passive, sometimes active.  You as a parent are choosing when to step forward, when to back-off, and when to teach by example.   Certainly, if your words do not match your behavior, you may have a bigger problem than you realize.    

It is not easy to practice or teach harm reduction.  Harm reduction begins with understanding you play an instrumental role in the success of your teen because what you say and do, and what you believe is communicated unequivocally in a linear (verbal) and non – linear (non-verbal) fashion.  After doing your best, there comes a time when letting go is the next step.  In that moment of letting go (i.e. your teen is off to a party and you wonder if there may be some drinking or pot) parents are often in need of controlling their own worry and anxiety long enough to remember, “I have done my best.”  And in that moment of letting go, you communicate to your teen, loudly and clearly, with and without words, “I trust you will be okay…Even if you are up to no good, temporarily!”   This is the dance of life: there is always light near to the shadow.

I believe William Blake sums this paradox up succinctly:

Joy and Woe are woven fine

A clothing for the soul divine

Under every grief and pine

Runs a joy with silken twine

It is right, it should be so

We were made for joy and woe

And when this we rightly know

Through the world we safely go.



1  Van Der Pol, Peggy. “Cross-sectional and Prospective Relation of Cannabis Potency, Dosing and Smoking Behavior with Cannabis Dependence: An Ecological Study.” Addiction 109.7 (2014): 1101-109. Web.

Marc Aronoff

Feel, Tolerate, Respond

This is a blog about three words that support mental health.  Combined into a whole practice the meaning of the words can reduce feeling miserable.   If your life is too dramatic, or emotions easily overwhelm you, “Feel, Tolerate, Respond” is something you can do for yourself to feel better.

Mental Health is the health of the Mind/Body.  Mental is not just related to the mind and the mind is not just related to your head.  Your mind is also “in” places like your gut.  That "gut feeling" you sometimes have is knowledge.  If nothing else, a gut feeling is knowledge you are alive.  I like a definition of “mental health” that includes not only “where your mind is at” but also your capacity for emotional and intellectual response to a problem.  For example, if your mom and dad suddenly and unexpectedly start fighting in front of you…  you can respond or react in many ways.   One person might cry, another might feel guilty, or argue, or try hard to make things better.  Another person might close down and become very quiet, afraid, sad, or even depressed.  There is no one way to deal with the drama of life.

If you try this little exercise, you will need to remember all three words and take three steps.  The first step is to “Feel” with awareness.  Feel whatever you need to feel.   Feelings can happen fast.  Ideally, your awareness of feelings happen before you are overwhelmed.   In order for you to feel with awareness, it helps to name the feeling—  ask yourself, “what feeling is this?  Insecurity, sadness, anger, joy, love?  Name the feeling.  Try to name it with no judgment or story of “I am good or bad.”   For many teens (and adults) accepting strong feelings and riding the wave of emotion is not easy.

The second step, “Tolerate,” is the toughest challange of this little equation because it may be so uncomfortable and full of anxiety.  To tolerate is to “hold” or “see” the feeling in a way that is neutral or at least compassionate--  as if you see the feeling like watching clouds in the sky…clouds just keep moving and changing.  If you can see those feelings from a distance and observe, it helps.  When you tolerate your difficult feelings you have a chance to steer your thoughts about the feelings.  You may notice some feelings quickly produce negative thoughts.  If you are aware, perhaps you can turn them around to positive thoughts.  You know, the Mind/Body can make a big, awful mess of a few sad feelings, when really, all you might need is a little time to rest, heal, or talk to a friend.  So, if you are tolerating your feelings with awareness, you will soon (or someday) come to know they will change.  No feeling is permanent.  Do your best to let the feeling be there, but not completely control you.  Try not to react in anger, revenge, or hatred.  Rather, be good to yourself and stand tall and let the storm system pass.  In tolerating mode, you may still feel awful, because your brain may be racing, your heart beating fast, and you are not in your “right” mind.  You may still become overwhelmed.  But, if your intention is to remember this process, you will not become overwhelmed as long.

The third step is to “Respond.”  Do something.  Take a nap, talk to a friend, talk to yourself, take a bath with Lavender oil, talk to the person who is upsetting you (if possible) journal, exercise, go for a run, etc.  Sometimes, all you can do is cry and feel awful.  That is normal.  And, that too will pass.  “Respond” is the action you take next to tolerating the feeling.  To respond is to “do” something.  Talking to a friend is “doing” something positive when you are trying to “tolerate” a miserable “feeling.”  Healthy responding is like digging a trench to redirect the fire.  Responding in a positive way is often the opposite of what you may want to do, like scream, cry, seek revenge, run away, escape, or any desperate action.  So, if you are feeling desperate do the opposite of what you are thinking.   If you are angry, say nothing immediately or choose your words carefully, act without aggression when you want to fight, or at minimum, think before you act.  Sure, you may still feel like crap, sure it may be hard as hell to tolerate your feelings and respond with just the right amount of effort, but at least you are not making matters worse with negative or extreme actions.

Will you try it?  “Feel, Tolerate, Respond.”  

When something happens that is upsetting, become aware of your feelings, tolerate them with as much grace as possible, and respond.  There is no way to fail, because you will simply do your personal best. To do your best is to be good enough for this moment.  Give yourself room to practice and make a mess of it, if needed.  Like strengthening your muscles, you will become stronger the more you use those muscles.   

Feel, Tolerate, and Respond is an action plan for cultivating Mental Health.  Of course, it is easier said than done.  But, who said life is easy?  Life is challenging with moments of easy.  So, a few action plans may come in handy.   

Marc Aronoff                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      


If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere interesting.
— Frank A. Clark

What is an obstacle?  Obstacles are things or life events that make getting what you want harder to achieve.  Obstacles can be something as simple as hurdles you have to jump over during a race or a difficult test you must take to enter college.  Obstacles can also be other people’s behaviors that you have to deal with, like your mother or father saying “no” when you want to hear “yes,” or a friend disappointing you. Obstacles can even be in your own mind, like thoughts and worries that keep you up at night. How do you overcome the obstacles of your own mind being negative? There are many kinds of obstacles. 

One thing that many people agree on, is that whatever obstacles you encounter they are generally not pleasant.  However, just because something is unpleasant does not mean it is “bad.  Is it possible that overcoming obstacles is in fact a part of life that helps you to grow strong mentally and physically?  And, consider this-- without obstacles, life would be rather boring.  By overcoming the challenges, difficulties, and problems that present as obstacles, life becomes more meaningful.  Sure, the easy, simple, fun pleasures of life, (especially for teens) are enough to make life meaningful.  But, a life well lived is a life that overcomes obstacles.  

So, if you ask yourself, what are the big obstacles in my life today, what might you say? Is it your dislike for homework and a teacher giving you bad grades which are both an obstacle to going to college?   Is your mother or father keeping you home or making you do things you hate, which is an obstacle to having fun?  Is your health an obstacle to feeling good?  Or, your negative thinking?   

One way to overcome obstacles is break them down into smaller parts.  For example:

  1. Identify your obstacles.

What is getting in your way and what do you need to overcome?   Be as clear as possible.  Give your obstacle a name.   Like, “if I go to bed late that is an obstacle to getting up early.”  You can also “be smart” by anticipating what obstacles might arise.  For example, a long distance runner may get a muscle cramp during a long race, and should prepare accordingly.

  1. Address each obstacle.

Come up with specific actions you can take to address the obstacles.  This is also called having a strategy for coping with the obstacle.  Specific strategies (not just saying (I am sure I can deal with it) can offer you some emotional resilience in dealing with them.  For example, for the long distance runner, pre-conditioning and proper diet improve muscle response.  

  1. Reflect and Evaluate.

After you have carried out your plan and done your best to overcome the obstacles, (it may takes several tries over several days, months, even years) ask yourself, “how did it go?”   Look at what went well and what was more challenging about overcoming your obstacles.  Are there things you want to do differently, next time?  Evaluating how your plan turns out is a crucial step in deciding what works and what does not work for you. Are there things you want to do different next time?

Obstacles are a part of life for both young and old.  Being an adolescent is a unique time for overcoming obstacles.  But with practice and the right attitude, the is a good chance you will grow emotionally strong and succeed. 


Marc Aronoff