From Psychology Today – 5 Actions to Optimize Your Mental Wellness

On occasion, I will be posting thought related to our Journeys to find a life well lived on Psychology Today.


Our stories, and the challenges we experience in our lives, seem so unique to us, yet in reality, these challenges and the resultant “pings” on our mental wellness can have both short-term and longer-lasting impacts. No matter what our station in life or the stage of our journey, there are five important “lands” that we can visit to ensure that our journey to mental wellness is both effective and lasting.

1. The Land of Stories

Start with a meaningful scan of your inner and outer life. Ask and answer the question, “How am I really showing up?” in both your relational world with others and your inner world of emotions and self-talk. What are the microscopic truths of your life, the impacts on others, and the perceived obstacles you continually encounter? Most importantly, how do you discover these traps and identify them as such? One way is to ask some folks you trust for their feedback and explore this with them.

One of the tools that I use with my clients is to ask them to write three stories about themselves. The first is called the “persona story.” This story describes how you hope to be perceived in the outer world. This story would answer the questions “Who are you?” and “Do you do what’s important to you?” The interesting thing about these questions is that the answers emanate from your ego. This may not be an accurate representation of who you show up as, but it is what you hope to be putting out into the world.

The second story is called “the inner story.” The inner story is the self-talk that exists in the private chambers of your mind about who you are and the life you lead. The third story is “the story of possibility.” This story represents your vision, your values, and the hopes and dreams you have for your life. It is, in a sense, the resolution of the first two stories.

2. The Land of Questions

The second land that we can visit in our journey to improved wellness answers some all-important questions: “Why would I want to improve my wellness?”; “How do I want to show up in the world?”; “What are some goals that I have for myself?”; and “What’s at stake for myself in making these changes?” These questions parrot an important relationship between the first land and the second land. It lies in the intersection of the two that we can hold our vision of the life that we hope for and intersect it with the reality of what our current life looks like. The gap between the two becomes an important propellant for change. If that propellant is strong enough, has enough of a sense of urgency to it, and you can create enough focus, then the opportunity exists that you can actually make the changes you hope for in service of your wellness.

3. The Land of Origins

The third land represents the origins of the repeating patterns of behavior that have an impact on our wellness. When we can look deeply at our core beliefs or the recurring triggers of negative behaviors in our life and the core causality of those factors, we can begin to change ourselves from the inside out. Examining the root cause of ongoing challenging behavior patterns allows us to create change in ourselves that is lasting and meaningful for our wellness.

4. The Land of Learning

The fourth dimension in our journey to optimize our wellness is that of identifying and considering skill upgrades in our life. We can’t expect to change or become better if we continue the same behaviors or mindsets that got us where we are now.

Learning new skills sets the table for behavior change in a positive manner. There are inner skills that we can acquire, like self-reflection through journaling, and there are outer skills that we can develop, like better listening. Identification and development of new skills to support our overall wellness is critical to its optimization.

5. The Land of Lasting Change

The fifth area we will visit is called “Land and Expand.” Here, we attempt the most difficult move of all in the optimization game: “sticking the landing!” Sticking with and finally achieving our goals is the most difficult of all accomplishments in the wellness arena.

How do we stick our landings? There are several things that research shows us need to be present. The first and most important is a sense of urgency about changing. Along with urgency, we need a strict focus, that is, knowing exactly what is needed. Lastly, all of the positive change we bring to our wellness is for nothing if we cannot measure success, get feedback on our progress, and celebrate our wins.

The last action that you can take, which is often overlooked, is to teach others what you are learning. I call this the “T3 Model,” where you are the learner while someone teaches you, and then you, in turn, teach someone else, giving them the benefits of your newly acquired skills. This approach goes a long way to solidify your commitment to the value of the change and your steadfastness to stay with your plan and goals.

In conclusion, having a process like the Five Lands to visit on your journey to optimal mental wellness is critical to your ultimate success, and your travels to those lands can be exciting and rewarding. The prize is expanded mental wellness and all of the gifts that accompany this awesome state of mind.

Continue ReadingFrom Psychology Today – 5 Actions to Optimize Your Mental Wellness

From Psychology Today – The 3 Stories of You: The Personal, Hidden, and Unknown Self

On occasion, I will be posting thought related to our Journeys to find a life well lived on Psychology Today.


round glass ball reflecting man standing

Our stories, and the challenges we experience in our lives, seem both unique and unsolvable to us in our isolated and sometimes “walled off” world. In reality, these challenges are all too common to most people. More importantly, the path to changing the trajectory of that story to a positive experience, both within ourselves and in our relationships with others, is imminently available. To accomplish this requires a bit of introspection and the building of skills necessary to take action on what you discover in the crafting of those stories.

The starting point to that critical journey is “you”; your openness to consider change, cultivation of a growth mindset, willingness to expand and open your self-awareness, and finally, the ultimate discipline and accountability that you commit to for those choices. I believe there are three distinctly different stories we have about ourselves. The first is the “persona story,” the story you tell others about who you are. The second is the “hidden self story,” the story you tell yourself in the private chambers of your inner mind, heart, and soul. The third story is the “story of possibility,” the true vision you have of your life in accordance with your most sacred and true values.

Your Personal Story

The first story is the story of how you hope to be seen in the world. Most of us spend our lifetime crafting and cultivating our persona. It is likely composed of a view of our personality that is aspirational, positive, self-oriented, and perhaps more forgiving of our weaknesses. Self-preservation is a very strong drive that guides our behavior and our view of ourselves. We are probably quite invested in our persona and likely quite defensive about it as well. It’s OK for you to poke holes in it, but it’s not OK for others to do so.

As I write this, I notice that who I am and who I want to be in the outer world are at odds to some extent. The persona I project is one of a strong, confident, independent, thoughtful, and kind person. I’m a bit guarded for sure, but because of my education and training as a psychologist, I like to have deep conversations with folks, to ask provocative questions, and to be transparent about my own awareness and distinctions about life and relationships. I enjoy that process and connection. I believe that I want to be seen as someone with depth and of substance, as this has been a drive of mine for as long as I can recall, largely in response to a core negative belief I have in my inner story concerning my own self-image. Often the core issue that we struggle with in our life story is a main character in our persona that strives to compensate for the challenge we see in ourselves.

To help you discover more about your persona or first story, here are a few things you can do:

  • Question and explore your motivation in taking actions or making decisions, and dig a bit deeper into your feelings and true motivations.
  • Ask others how they see you. If you are lucky, someone who cares a great deal for you will share the truth lovingly, and you will benefit greatly. My brother-in-law, Rex, did that for me many years ago. While I was surprised at what he said, it made perfect sense given what I know about my persona.
  • Ask what is important to you inside yourself and also as relates to how others see you. An example for me is that I want to be seen as competent and professional and having my stuff together. I like that I am a psychologist and get to help others with their problems; it kind of gets me off the hook in dealing with my own challenges.
  • Begin to explore deeper the real you, your wants, needs, hopes, and what is truly important to you.

The Hidden Self

The second story we tell about ourselves or could tell is that of the hidden self, the private self. This represents the inner drives, motives, aspirations, fears, beliefs, and internal image of yourself. It would be like if you pulled back the curtain, like in The Wizard of Oz, and we finally got to see the true nature of the all-powerful wizard. We see his real story, his emotions, fears, and ways of coping with the world.

For me, looking inside at this part of myself for that story has been difficult and scary. I have worked very hard to create the outer façade of myself—having it all together and being a leader and helper of others. In a way, this has shielded me from having to deal with my own core negative beliefs, and it reinforces my ego-oriented persona story. Questions to ask to uncover the hidden story of self include these:

  • What consumes your thinking, what do you obsess about, and what do you fear and work hard to overcome?
  • What are the core issues that have traveled the world and the years of your life with you, like an uninvited guest that keeps showing up in your life?
  • What feelings are you hiding from others about yourself?
  • What might happen if your true inner self were uncovered and shared with your loved ones, friends, and professional associates?

The Unknown Self

The third story is the story of the undiscovered you, perhaps the aspirational you, the possible you. This story is unknown to you and others and is perhaps the most important story and the most exciting one. This story is likely the resolution of the first two stories. It is the one that can change your life’s trajectory.

For me, as I sat with myself in deliberation and preparation for writing this post, exploring my third story, I had to determine if I would take on this vision of my potential life or settle for the safer ground of story one while keeping story two hidden as much as possible. I have decided to go for it, but I waiver often, and I believe that is the nature of the third story. All we can do is bring it to awareness and begin to live into it and share it with others in a courageous and honest manner. Even with this perspective and motivation, I still find myself with one foot in story one and often stuck in story two, but the three stories create a pathway for me to travel and explore, learn about, and even live. Why not try to write these three stories for yourself and see where it takes your thinking and decision-making?

In conclusion, the real purpose of the three stories is to step back from your day-to-day life, take an honest look at yourself, and determine what story is driving your life and whether you want to change it.

As I explain in my book, The Journeyman Life: The Not-So-Perfect Path to a Life Well Lived, meaningful change begins with the stark reality and ownership of how we are living our inner and outer lives. That, along with the creation and commitment to a set of core life values, mission, and daily practices, is the key to our journey to a well-lived life.

Following are the key takeaways and actions that will allow you to move on this pathway:

  • Explore in journal format your three stories and share them with a friend or intimate partner. Ask for feedback, then expand and refine your stories.
  • Deepen the exploration of your inner life and private story by further understanding your core beliefs and operating system. What are the voices or beliefs that are holding you back that are fearful and also aggressive to others?
  • Refine the vision, mission, and values for the life you wish to live; the life that is possible with this awareness and choice available to you.
  • Commit to a set of goals and the development of new skills to allow this change to take place both inside and outside you.
  • Build a network of support to help you in this process.

Joseph Campbell, in his book, The Hero’s Journey, discusses this process when he challenges all men to “Explore the inner reaches of your outer space.” The journey that you find yourself on is your unique story and the possibilities are boundless.

Continue ReadingFrom Psychology Today – The 3 Stories of You: The Personal, Hidden, and Unknown Self