Hero: Elizabeth Taylor

The most recent celebrity death had the silver lining of reminding us of their numerous social and community-oriented accomplishments. The star from the Golden Age of Hollywood Elizabeth Taylor died on March 23 at 79 years old from heart disease. A woman of supreme beauty and grace, Taylor also exhibited enormous philanthropic generosity throughout her life, and is commended as a Full Life Hero for her contributions to both film and society.

Elizabeth Taylor is especially notable for her contributions to AIDS charities, including co-founding the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and for raising more than $270 million for the cause. She was one of the first public figures to speak out against AIDS at a time when many people denied the existence of the disease, and hosting the first AIDS fundraiser in 1984. Taylor also devoted time and money to other philanthropic causes.

What can readers of the Full Life Amplifier Blog learn from Elizabeth Taylor’s life of philanthropy and selflessness?

  • Devote yourself to the causes that have not only personal meaning for you, but also a major impact on others. Taylor first became involved in the fight against AIDS after her friend and frequent costar Rock Hudson announced that he suffered from the disease, but her contributions from this relationship helped more people than she ever knew.
  • All causes deserve attention and effort. Elizabeth Taylor made substantial donations in 2009 to charities for religions other than her own in order to facilitate the education of less-fortunate children. She did not allow differences in religious beliefs to limit her contributions to great causes.
  • Investments and planning can continue your legacy even after your death. Some of Taylor’s jewelry—valued at approximately $150 million—is going to be auctioned off for AIDS charities, continuing her philanthropic streak even after she’s gone.
  • Pay no mind to what the critics may say. Taylor was no stranger to controversy, especially regarding her numerous marriages and extravagant lifestyle. Nevertheless, by all accounts Taylor was happy with her station in life even in her twilight years.

Elizabeth Taylor’s consistent concern with philanthropic endeavors demonstrates her selflessness. She made huge contributions to charities and nonprofits that undoubtedly raised the quality of countless lives. It is a pleasure to honor one of our greatest stars for both her acting and altruistic achievements.

What are your thoughts?


How can we curb the spread of stigma against the overweight?

In a New York Times article called “Spreading Fat Stigma Around the Globe,” it’s being demonstrated that cultural views of obesity are becoming more and more negative. Even in cultures like Puerto Rico where the ideal of beauty has more curves, the tide of public perception about obesity is turning; an increasing number of people are perceiving overweight people as lazy as opposed to being perceived as suffering from a condition resulting from genetic and social circumstances.

It’s easy to be judgmental about an overweight person, especially if their condition is unpleasant or inconvenient for you. But it’s important to remember that genetic factors play an enormous role in a person’s weight, and that losing excess weight takes a great deal of discipline and self-control. Stigmatizing obesity will not help: shame is never a good motivator.

What can you do to avoid developing a judgmental attitude towards the overweight?

  1. Stay respectful towards others by constantly trying to empathize with them. Think about things you’re ashamed of and how mortified you’d be if someone were to draw attention to them. Don’t dwell on this, but at least keep it in mind.
  2. Be polite to overweight people, even if they inconvenience you in some way. For example, many people can recall an occasion where they’ve had to sit next to one on a crowded plane or bus. If your “space” is invaded, consider whether you can politely ask them to move slightly, or if you can discretely ask a flight attendant if you could switch seats. But do not allow yourself to grow rude or impatient as this would further propagate disrespect of the overweight.
  3. Don’t ever draw attention to an obese person’s appearance, which could make the problem worse by raising their levels of self-consciousness.

Resist the temptation to negatively judge others. Obesity is an epidemic, and shaming its victims is counterproductive and belittling. More importantly, it’s never productive to cultivate judgmental attitudes about others, even internally.

What are your thoughts?


Reacting to Negative Media Portrayals

A recent New York Times article called “The Disposable Woman” explores how the recent Charlie Sheen debacle reflects our culture’s view of women. Whereas it’s popular to view our society as progressive, with female empowerment and equality being touted, there is a marked discrepancy in how the media portrays women. Reality television often shows women as conniving and back-stabbing, and missing white woman syndrome mainstream media portrays women as helpless children. How can women truly be empowered if their media portrayals are so denigrating and insulting?

This dilemma isn’t unique to women. Many minority groups—i.e., racial, religious, or orientation—face the same sorts of discrimination. Using the current discussion of women as an example, here are some things a group receiving negative messages can do to maintain esteem:

  1. Speak out against casual antagonism. Don’t sit quietly while someone makes misogynistic, racist, or homophobic comments or implications. Avoid direct confrontation and calmly ask for explanation and respond maturely to everything they say. You may not change their mind, but you could change the mind of someone else listening.
  2. Question mainstream media coverage of minority groups. These tend to be broadcast through the lens of society in general, so they’re more than likely going to amplify the possibly harmful and disrespectful popular view.

Remember that insecurity lies at the root of most judgments. What are you insecure about? Who can you stop judging?

What are your thoughts?


Hero: Gene Sharp

With the recent uprisings in Libya and Egypt, much of the world’s attention is focused on the ongoing struggle for universal democracy. One understated influence on these movements is the scholar Gene Sharp, an unbelievably humble political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth whose numerous tracts on nonviolent change have greatly inspired freedom seekers around the globe. Sharp’s revolutionary ideas are all the more impressive when one considers his incredible humility and old age. He refrains from taking credit for his influence, giving the Egyptians credit for their actions. The man is a true hero for peacefully advancing the cause of democracy and doing it based entirely on the strength of his ideas.

Sharp’s ideas expand upon those espoused by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King. In essence, Sharp’s philosophy emphasizes people’s strength in numbers and resilience to oppression. Despite the professor’s lack of experience with the internet, he also touts the use of new media both for organization and informing the world about the joys of freedom and news updates regarding potential oppression and hidden abuses. Though Sharp has his fair share of detractors that criticize his “passivity”, the wide spread reach of his work and the actions they have inspired speak for themselves.

Gene Sharp’s democratic teachings are incredibly admirable, and what’s even more impressive is that they come from such a self-effacing man. This professor is a true hero for his amazing contribution to the evolution of democracy.

What do you think about Sharp’s approach to change?


Grief Recovery and Resilience Research

Recent research suggests that the human sense of resilience is stronger than previously thought. In a New York Times article called “Grief, Unedited,” research headed by George Bonanno from Teachers College, Columbia shows that people who lose spouses late in life recover more quickly from grief than is popularly thought. In most cases cited in the study, elderly widows and widowers mostly showed recovery from grief within six months of the loss of their spouse. This information speaks volumes for the human capacity for resilience and does not imply that humans are colder than previously thought: widows and widowers that move past their grief do not stop missing their deceased partner, but simply return to normal. It’s an inspiring thought that people can move on and reclaim their lives.

There’s common ground between this research and some articles about the resilience of 9/11 victims in New York. Like the widows and widowers study, surveys of New York residents who were in the city on September 11, 2001 show that they also recovered from the trauma at a higher rate than one might intuitively expect. Even around two thirds of those who were near the World Trade Center showed a high recovery rate and return to normalcy after just six months. This shows that the human spirit is remarkably strong, and stories about victims of tragedies regaining their mental and emotional health is very inspiring.

Here is some interesting further reading on resilience:

  1. The Other Side of Sadness by George A. Bonanno – This is the research cited in the article. Detailed examinations of both statistical and anecdotal evidence suggesting the human spirit is more resilient than most people think.
  2. 9/11 Resilience Study – This study demonstrates that even in the case of such an extreme and jarring tragedy as 9/11, victims are capable of bouncing back from PTSD very quickly. The study was conducted shortly after the 2001 attacks so promising results are discussed with some skepticism, but the more recent research seems to confirm the optimistic tone.
  3. “Grief: The Journey From Suffering to Resilience” by William F. Doverspike, Ph.D. – This is a more cautious guide to avoiding the pitfalls of chronic grief and developing resilience.

Despite the public’s assumptions regarding our respective responses to trauma, even people who receive minimal counseling have demonstrated an admirable and inspiring level of resilience. Now we know that people possess an amazing ability to adapt and thrive.

What do you think?


Money Cannot Buy Empathy

Did you ever feel that the rich in this country lack basic empathy? This possibility sounds remote, but new research reveals that such discrepancies in empathy can be quantified and demonstrated to be true. A recent New York Times article called “The Rich Lack Empathy, Study Says” reports the findings of researchers this past October. According to one of the researchers in charge of the study, Dr. Keltner, the economically disadvantaged lack the means to hire people to help them, so in order to seek aid and support, they develop effective empathy skills. The wealthy, who have the benefit of being able to hire people to support them, do not develop these skills to the same degree. As a result, those from wealthy backgrounds often miss emotional cues and non-verbal hints.

Here are some ways that difficulties with empathy can show up in individuals:

  • Lack of identification with others.
  • Limited imagination for how other people could go about accomplishing a task.
  • Inability to tell what someone might be thinking.
  • Missed social cues and hints.

The drawbacks of having a poorly developed sense of empathy include being seen by peers, family, or employees as cold or insensitive. Stepping up your empathy skill set can alleviate these problems. A person with an empathy deficit should bank on using a visualization exercise in which one imagines they are in the others’ shoes.

So putting care and understanding into all one’s relationships, may trigger a lot more positive energy (and even greater employee engagement).

What do you think?


Health Through the Soul

A recent article in Psychiatric News reviews Thomas Moore, Ph.D.’s book Care of the Soul in Medicine, an intriguing book concerning the idea of the human soul in healthcare. According to the author, modern medicine overlooks the important factor of caring for the patient’s soul during treatment, a practice that has its roots in ancient studies and techniques. Dr. Moore claims that modern medicine has too great a focus on the biological aspect of medical treatment, treating people like machines that need repair, not humans that need healing.

This is a very interesting approach, and while I wouldn’t want to downplay the biomedical aspect of healthcare, I agree that there is something more than biology at play in many patients, something that may well be called the soul. Dr. Moore points to the impersonality of healthcare. It is vital that we find ways to personalize the patient experience and introduce wellness approaches to education.

I’d say that Dr. Moore’s ideas overlap with my Spheres of Life® approach, especially since some clients can improve their functionality simply by getting in touch with their spirituality. Everyone’s different, but I’ve seen a lot of clients improve their workplace performance and lifestyle by devoting more time to what is meaningful for them, which in turn nourishes their soul.

In coaching, I teach clients to focus on on the soul by concentrating on two spheres:

  1. Spirit Sphere – This sphere covers your faith, religion, and values. Take some time to crystallize your beliefs and make sure you always act in accordance with your values. What makes life more purposeful for you?
  2. Self Sphere – This is your personality, development, your story, and your character. Clarify who you are by focusing on the aspects of your life that you are most proud of.

At this time of new year’s resolutions, what simple goal can improve your spirit?


Simplify and De-clutter Your Life

An exchange variously attributed to an interviewer and either John D. Rockefeller or J. Paul Getty—both astronomically wealthy oil tycoons—goes like this: A reporter asks the interviewee how much money is enough, and the response comes: “Just one dollar more.” Indeed, mankind has grown more and more materialistic and possession-motivated in the last century. A new movement resisting this notion is gathering steam, however, claiming that people might be happier once they actively limit their possessions and focus on relationships with those close to them.

An article in the New York Times called “But Will It Make You Happy?” contains an overview of the movement. Most commonly, websites that support the minimalist philosophy gauge the metrics of how simplified your life is by counting your possessions. The blog Stuck in Stuff has a number of articles about limiting what you own to 100 items, and it’s this type of site that inspires the people discussed in the NYT article. 100 items is an extreme, but we all have something to incorporate regarding simplification.

The effect of cutting off superfluous attachments is to drastically simplify your life and eventually allow you to focus on being happy. It works like this: as you limit your possessions, you need less space and less transportation to go about your everyday life. This means you spend less money on smaller apartments and transportation, which means you can work to earn money to support yourself, not your possessions.

An unhappy worker is unproductive, no matter the industry. Cutting ties to possessions and trimming fat can be a very liberating action, and can contribute to happiness. If you feel like you’re working for those around you and to support your habits, not your choices, maybe simplifying your lifestyle is a good idea.

What are your thoughts?


Habits: Challenging How We Think About Study Habits

A terrific article describes groundbreaking effective study strategies in “Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits,” informing us about new cognitive research that challenges conventional ideas about the best ways to learn and study. I have never identified with boring and repetitive study habits, and instead have found that mixing up and varying one’s approach is the way to go when it comes to effective studying or work output. I was intrigued to find that this research confirms my own preferences and the methods I teach to Full Life clients.

There are two main ideas that the article takes issue with: first was the idea that students should have a set place where they always study. Actually, as I’ve found and as the article reports, it’s better to learn and work from a variety of different locations. The article explains that we make numerous subtle associations between the subject we’re studying and our surroundings while we study it; and by changing our location, we force the brain to make multiple associations to increase retention. I noticed this practice helped me greatly when I was writing my book, Fire Your Therapist, which I wrote in many different places: one day I would work from home, one day from the office, another day from Starbucks, then in Florida. This kind of alternating also helps you from getting fatigued: by varying your surroundings, changing the background “noise” and keeping the routine from getting boring.

The second convention that the article challenges is the idea that the best way to learn large amounts of new material is immersion in each separate subject. I’ve found that it helps more to turn studying into something of an exercise regiment—just as you vary speed, weight, and power training in a workout, you might consider sampling different kinds of subject matter in each study session to build mental connections between the different subjects, thereby replicating a multitasking testing experience while you study. Immersion may still have a place in a study regiment, but it’s good to see it supplemented with more innovative and effective study methods.

So new study approaches include:
1. Vary study locations
2. Vary background noise/music
3. Vary light, temperature, smells, tastes
4. Study by sampling and limit immersion

It’s always difficult to disregard conventional thinking, even in the face of empirical research. This has always been evident, and we can see it in the article: the research that led to claims that alternating a study space is helpful comes from 1978, yet students are still widely told to set aside a dedicated study space and stick to it. In fact, there are more conventional beliefs about learning that don’t hold up to scrutiny. Study habits are widely stuck in antiquated ruts, and need to be supplemented with modern innovations.

What are your thoughts?


Possibility: 40 Years of Talk or Getting Results

Daphne Merkin’s August 8, 2010 article My Life in Therapy demonstrates how a long-term patient can become disillusioned with therapy, in part due to the discipline’s top-down and judgmental approach. Unfortunately, therapy is often more concerned with the therapist’s interests, not with your desired outcomes. Whether or not we want to admit it, the history of therapy has involved judgment, where the therapist interprets your ambitions and issues as problems or mental disorders. Also, for this reason, many minorities avoided therapy since the word spread that people were often more hurt than helped. What is needed now is a time-efficient and respectful multi-cultural approach for all clients to both manage issues and achieve goals, while implementing their own ideas of the life you want.

Like a lot of other people, Merkin’s article speaks of growing disillusionment with therapy, in part due to how the discipline is often therapist-centric, as opposed to chiefly concerned with your well-being.

Coaching is actually an “architectural” and design-oriented process with problem solving and goal-setting technologies for clients to utilize. Therapists have historically been called shrinks, and the new generation of coaches (ideally with clinical training as their foundation) are better described as “expanders”. Coaching helps you construct your career and life in order to achieve greater satisfaction and even “optimal performance”. It’s an exciting time, as coaching can combine the effective aspects of therapy with pursuit of your vision and goals. People are growing frustrated with the frequently narrow and “pathologizing” therapy process. Clients yearn for useful tools to survive in this increasingly competitive world. As the paradigm of therapy wanes, coaching provides an exciting client-centric alternative.


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