In the last few weeks, I’ve talked to you about why it is important to lean into discomfort and shared some tips on how to do that. Today, I want to apply this to our relationships so you can see why getting out of your comfort zone is hugely beneficial if you want better relationships.

Let’s talk about intimate partner relationships. In all relationships, we have to be willing to see things from our partners’ perspective if we hope to be empathic. And I believe that empathy is a mandatory skill. Often, it can be very uncomfortable to put aside your own beliefs, thoughts, agendas, ideas and strong feelings to really tune into what your partner is saying or experiencing. But what are the consequences of NOT leaning into this discomfort? The same argument over and over? The cold shoulder? Lack of closeness? Lack of sex? I can think of at least ten more consequences of not pushing yourself to consider your partner’s viewpoint, but you get the idea.

But if you can remind yourself that your Lizard Brain wants to stay the same and see things the way you have always seen them, then you can learn some ways to work with your Inner Lizard. Sometimes it helps to objectify this part of your brain, so picturing that you have a lizard living in your head can help! It’s a reminder that you are not a pig-headed jerk, you just have a part of your brain that resists change. The lizard wants to be comfortable because, in a certain primitive way, it sees discomfort as a threat to your survival.

So talk to your Inner Lizard (this is called thinking about your thinking). Tell it that you appreciate the internal warning signals it gives you to try and keep you safe, but that your Human Brain is taking over here because you really are not in danger and to EVOLVE (remember, the Lizard just wants to survive) you need to be uncomfortable. You can remind the Lizard of the ways you have taken a risk and been very successful.

The goal here is to be aware that what is happening when you dig your heels in or get attached to being right with your partner, is that your Lizard Brain is stepping in because it thinks you are in danger. All you have to do is get better at noticing when this happens and then intentionally shift into Human Brain and make a higher level decision to step into discomfort by putting aside everything Lizard is saying and focus on what your partner’s view is. What is she/he thinking, feeling, trying to tell you? This is the time to be really OPEN. That is uncomfortable.

But like I said last time, the more you practice the easier it gets. But depending on how long you’ve been thinking about it one way, it may take A LOT of practice. But don’t give up. It’s so worth it. Everything we want is on the other side of discomfort, even in our relationships.

PS This is a great TED talk that illustrates the point about how some automatic (Lizard Brain) patterns in our brain take lots of practice to change.

bigIn my last post, I told you about why is it so important to choose to be uncomfortable so that you can use your “Human Brain” (your prefrontal cortex) to create what you want. I also told you that the more you practice this, the less uncomfortable it will get over time. But how do you “get good at” being uncomfortable when our natural tendency is to avoid discomfort?

The answer is to change your mindset about discomfort and learn some new tools to help you practice. When I use the term mindset, I’m referring to a set of assumptions and beliefs you have about it. Which is just another way of saying your thoughts about it. Our Lizard Brain’s automatic response is often something like,

No way, this sucks, how can I feel better now?

It’s time to go work out but I am tired. The thought of all the physical effort is uncomfortable.   So the Lizard Brain makes excuses and rationalizes,

Probably shouldn’t put the pressure on my knees today. I’ll wait one more day

Discomfort avoided!

Lizard Brain win!

So to change our thinking we have to use our Human Brain to observe the Lizard Brains’ excuses and label them by being really honest with ourselves. Then we have to call upon the Human Brain to override that excuse with a more powerful thought that will get us better results. And that takes effort and practice. That is a new skill that anyone can learn.

All learning and skill development takes time and practice. You are willing to put in that effort when something is important. I have a friend who will spend 3 hours shopping for a new pair of pants, but not spend 15 minutes working on her mind to create new thoughts. How important is that goal? She obviously wants to look good so she’s willing to spend time shopping because she thinks that is more comfortable. But what if she practiced the thought,

It will be so much easier to find pants that fit me if I spend 20 minutes on my leg lifts and squats 3-4 times this week. It may be uncomfortable to push myself at first but the more I practice, the easier it will get

The next tool in learning to embrace discomfort is to lean into it. I’ve talked about observing your automatic response. You have to notice it, observe it and then label it:

That’s my Lizard Brain wanting to be efficient.

Instead of resisting it, or tensing up against it, let yourself just accept it.

Okay, that’s what my Lizard Brain does. It’s normal. I’m normal.

There is tremendous relief in just accepting what is present in this moment and not fighting it. This acceptance, or leaning into it, allows you to move forward and choose a different response. But if you immediately go into resistance,

Oh no there it is again, I have to do battle with this part of me,

You change your energy. Now you’re less open to possibilities. So try acceptance:

Okay, that’s what my Lizard Brain does. It’s normal. I’m normal.

Now you are free to choose a different response. Instead of just resisting your discomfort, you can observe and allow it. Acknowledge this is uncomfortable (working out when I’m tired, saying no to dessert or a glass of wine, etc) but I can handle it. I can be uncomfortable to get what I want and it will be temporary and I will survive. And the more I practice it, the less uncomfortable it will get.

To summarize,

  • Be willing to change your mindset and thoughts about discomfort.
  • Learn to observe and label it
  • Lean into it, accept it
  • Acknowledge that it’s temporary, you won’t die and it will get easier

How do you think this could impact your relationships?  What would change if you learned how to tolerate some discomfort and not react when you become uncomfortable?


by Ellen · 0 comments

What have you been telling yourself that you want over and over and not getting? One of the reasons you are not getting it is probably because you are avoiding discomfort. Our natural tendency as human beings is to seek pleasure and avoid discomfort. Some people are very good at seeing the benefit of short-term discomfort to reach a goal they think will be pleasurable:

  • I won’t buy Starbucks or eat out to save money so I can buy that thing I really want
  • I won’t eat dessert or bread so I can lose 10 pounds and keep it off permanently
  • I will work out even when I don’t want to or feel tired or don’t have time so I can become stronger and more flexible

But many people will set these goals and then fall back into old habits and save less, eat more or exercise less. Why? Especially when we know we really want that goal.

The reason has to do with our brain. Our brains are very efficient and operate in a way that conserves energy. When we already know how to do something, our brain wants to keep doing it the same way to minimize the use of resources. It’s really quite brilliant!

One way to help us understand this is to look at two important parts of our brain. Our Frontal Lobes in the cerebrum control planning, anticipating the future, inhibiting impulses, self-reflection and moral judgments (among other things). Our Frontal Lobe is what distinguishes us from other animals.

Our Lower Brain (cerebellum) is similar to animals in that it ensures our survival through regulation of the autonomic nervous system mostly through unconscious functions, such as breathing, heart rate, movement, sight and hearing (among other things). So the Lower Brain operates more “automatically” which conserves resources. We don’t have to learn how to drive every time we get into the car because once we learn and practice enough, the Frontal Brain will delegate certain things to automatic in the Lower Brain. We don’t have to think about it each time and use our precious brain power. I like to refer to these parts as our Human Brain and our Lizard Brain (scientists call it the reptilian brain because this part of our brain function is shared by all reptiles and mammals).

So, when we are trying to change an old pattern (sitting on the couch or on Facebook) to achieve a new goal (exercise more to get stronger and healthier), the Lizard Brain wants to do what is automatic and known. It resists change. It is primal, survival-oriented and driven by fear. So if we really want to get what we want (stronger and healthier), we have to be willing to be uncomfortable. It’s really not that big of a deal once you understand how the brain operates and then practice and get used to it. You have to employ extra effort in the Human Brain. This part always requires more effort. So you have to tell yourself,

I just have to notice that my Lizard Brain is pulling me to do what’s familiar because it thinks that will help my survival. But lucky me; I also have an amazing Human Brain that can decide to override the Lizard. It will be uncomfortable for a while, but that is only temporary. The good news is that after a while, after steady and repeated practice of the new effort, it will become automatic and easier!

So embrace discomfort because the more you do, the closer you will be to having that thing you really want! Next week, I will talk about how to embrace discomfort.


I have shared one of my favorite quotes here before that embodies my philosophy of relationship coaching.250-x-190-Agreement-Terms-of-Service-TOS It’s by Rumi:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

You see, we are all born perfect little love machines. We want nothing more than to give and receive love. But then we are influenced by the many, many external messages we take in, especially while we are growing up. The thing is, small children often take in messages in ways that are entirely different than they were meant. Then there are children who get really, really crappy messages about love or their lovability. Then we reach adolescence and take everything personally and long for external validation from our peer group, which we often don’t get in exactly the way we had hoped.

So is it any wonder that by the time we are adults that we have received some pretty mixed messages about love?

Today, I want to look at one particular area that creates a “barrier within yourself that you have built against” love. And that is our old agreements.

An old agreement can be any agreement, conscious or unconscious, that we made with ourselves, or with someone else, that directs us away from a great romantic relationship. Here are some examples:

I was raised by a single mother and made a promise (inside myself or to my mother) that I would not get married until she found a partner first.

I was separated from my high school sweetheart by a long distance move and promised him I would never love anyone else the way I loved him.

My father bullied my mother and I vowed to be her protector.

My sister was the pretty one and I was the smart one and I decided that attracting a man was not for me. 

My mother told me she could never leave my father because she would have no way to support herself and the kids financially and I decided never to be financially dependent on a man

Now the last one may sound reasonable and even smart. But sometimes these agreements backfire. My client who made that agreement with herself ended up choosing men who were not financially strong or sound. So she was never financially dependent on them. But she ended up being very resentful which kept her from having the partnership she longed for.

Here are the steps to take to remove these “barriers within yourself that you have built against love”:

First, identify any old agreements you may be holding on to. Dig deep here. Don’t just explore the surface. Ask yourself, “what were early beliefs I formed about relationships, my place in relationships, how men and women treat each other, what hurts me, and what is expected of me?

Answering these questions may give you clues to find hidden agreements you made. Once you have identified the agreement, rewrite it. Using the example of the woman who vowed to protect her mother from her abusive father, it might look like this:

Dear Mom,

I recently realized that when I was a child growing up, I was so upset about the way dad treated you that I promised myself I would always protect you. It made me feel good to believe that I had this important job. But now that I am in my late 20’s and I have begun to wonder why none of my relationships ever work out, I realized that I have been holding the belief deep down inside of me that it was still my job to protect you and take care of you. Now that I am an adult, I understand that it was never really my job and I was probably pretty powerless to affect dad’s behavior. I also now understand that it was your decision to stay with a man who bullied you. I want you to know that I am officially resigning from the job of being your protector. I know that you want me to be an independent adult and have a life and love life of my own. I still love you and always will, but I am going to let you handle your relationships since you are an adult.



You do NOT have to send this letter or even tell the person. They might not even be living. But I do highly recommend that you visualize yourself face to face with this person and saying these words and visualize their acceptance of it (even if you don’t think they would react that way).

What old agreements have you uncovered? How will you free yourself?




Do you apologize often?

Do you constantly feel like you’re letting others down?images

One sure fire way to know if you are an ‘over-apologizer’ is to ask yourself, “Do I often feel responsible for and invested in other peoples’ happiness”?  Because if you do, you will be constantly apologizing due to your inability to keep them happy.

And it’s not because you don’t try hard, it’s because it is VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE to be responsible for others’ feelings.  Why?

Because we are all responsible for our OWN feelings.  And how do I know that?  Because our thoughts create all of our feelings.  So, if I feel hurt because of something you did, it’s because I have a thought about it that creates hurt feelings.

Now, I’m not saying that you are not responsible for your actions.  If you promise me something and break your promise, you are responsible for that decision and behavior.  But if I’m hurt by it (well, yeah), it’s because I have thoughts about how I expected you to act.

Let me clarify; I’m not saying that I approve of that behavior, I’m only saying that I can’t control it.  And I’m also not saying I would not feel hurt.  What I am saying is that the person who betrayed me or lied to me or let me down is not responsible for my feelings.

So back to over-apologizing.

When you are invested in other people feeling a certain way or not feeling a certain way (I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable at my party, I want my son to be happy, I don’t want her to feel jealous of my success, etc), then you are taking too much responsibility for their feelings.  So, any time you apologize because another person may not like your decision, comment or actions, you are giving away your power.  This is different than apologizing because you recognize that you make a mistake.  That’s a good thing!

So how do you recover from over-apologizing?

First and foremost, begin to notice where you do this and change your internal beliefs about being responsible for how someone else feels.  Notice, observe, catch yourself and then remind yourself that no matter how much you want to, you can’t constantly change how someone else feels.  It’s exhausting to try!  Then, instead of apologizing, try one of these three options:

Show appreciation.  Instead of apologizing because dinner took longer to cook and is starting late, try saying, “I really appreciate your patience”.

Ask for understanding.  Instead of apologizing for setting a boundary that someone did not like, such as “If you aren’t here within ten minutes of our meeting time, I will leave”, try “Thanks for understanding”.

The third suggestion is to acknowledge their feelings or discomfort.  Instead of apologizing for not joining in something that makes you uncomfortable, try, “I know this is hard for you but this is what I need to do”.

Where do you find yourself over-apologizing?


You have probably worked for an organization at one point or another that had a mission statement.  mission_statement

Why do companies and nonprofits have one? Because it guides priorities and describes the reason that organization exists. Here are some good ones:

At American Express, we have a mission to be the world’s most respected service brand. To do this, we have to establish a culture that supports our team members, so they can provide exceptional service to our customers.

As a Jesuit Catholic university, John Carroll inspires individuals to excel in learning, leadership, and service in the region and in the world.

Facebook: Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

Life is Good: Spreading the power of optimism.

So shouldn’t your marriage or relationship have a mission statement? We are all going in many directions, over stimulated, over consuming, with many demands for our attention. It makes sense to me that we have great clarity about things that are really important because, with life’s fast pace, it’s easy to get swept up and lose focus.

If you are willing to spend time thinking about your organization’s goals and strategies, then shouldn’t  you be willing to invest time thinking about your relationship?

Here are some questions recommended for business in considering a mission statement:

Who is your company?

What do you do? What do you stand for? And why do you do it?

Do you want to make a profit, or is it enough to just make a living?

What markets are you serving, and what benefits do you offer them?

Do you solve a problem for your customers?

What kind of internal work environment do you want for your employees?

Let’s look at how to translate that into a relationship mission statement.

Why do you want to be together?

How are your lives better together versus apart?

What are your top 3 shared common values?

What is the main reason you are willing to make sacrifices to be and stay together?

What is your role is serving others (children, extended family, community, friends…)?

I did this exercise with my boyfriend and here’s what we came up with:

We are fully committed to supporting one another to be our best selves, to support each other’s needs balanced with our own needs, to take very good care of our own needs so we can be the best partners and to be a safe and strong base for our 3 children to grow from and enjoy life with. We are committed to accepting each other fully, even when we disagree or are upset. Our top three values are family, commitment, and respect.

One of the benefits of a relationship mission statement is that it serves as a guide or North Star. When you are in a tough spot, your mission statement will remind you what the right course of action is. It will remind you why you are together, why you give up a life of “not being accountable to anyone” and why you are willing to accept not always getting your way for the greater good of the “organization” (the two of you). It will remind you of your higher priorities when you are taking a shortsighted view.

What is your relationship mission statement? If you’re not in a relationship right now, you can still think about what you want it to be and what your values are. I’d love to hear your thoughts, please comment!


observe image


We all want to have better relationships, right?

And we all know that we can’t control other people or get them to act the way we want them to, right?

And most of us can identify a relationship (or 2) where we don’t have the easy option to just end the relationship (our kids, other family member, sometimes coworkers, etc).

So what can we do?

If you’ve worked with me long enough, you know that I’m going to say that you have to focus on changing how you show up in the relationship. Why? Because it’s the only thing you can really control. I talk about a lot of ways we can improve how we show up, but today I want to share one of the most powerful tools. As always, the concept is pretty simple. My yoga teacher said it yesterday while we were in chair pose, which can be quite uncomfortable. She said “Observe; don’t react.”

Why is this so important and what does it really mean?

In the context of the yoga pose, or other physical demands, it means we use a stronger part of our mind to observe the discomfort or pain. My thighs were talking loudly to me. They were saying, “This is ridiculous, this hurts, you can’t hold this much longer, my teacher might have super strong quads but mine aren’t quite there, I think it’s time for a rest, let’s just go into child’s pose.”

Fortunately, I have this OTHER part of my brain that can just observe what is happening without reacting. Fortunately, I’ve been practicing using this part of my brain so I knew what to do. I just “watched” my thoughts about how hard this was. Instead of making a decision from that part of my brain (immediately avoid the discomfort and pain and go to child’s pose), which is reacting, I just noticed it from a neutral place. So this is what the watching part of my brain does. I call it The Watcher. It notices the discomfort but it does not make reactive decisions. It is wise. It knows that I’m not going to die or experience a serious injury (in that case, it’s time to stop). The watcher just kinda says “Isn’t it interesting that those sensations are so strong.” It does not equate that with EMERGENCY.

The Watcher knows that if I take some breaths and remain present and don’t let my mind go into reaction mode that I will be okay. It is so wise, that it also knows that this discomfort will make me stronger.

So let’s apply this to relationships. Especially the times when someone says or does something to annoy us. Or even seriously piss us off. If we do not employ The Watcher part of our brain, we will react from the emotion of anger. I never do my best thinking from strong emotions. If our buttons really get pushed, it weakens the connection to our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that does the best thinking, planning and problem solving. So to really have the most impact in my relationships, I want to respond from my prefrontal cortex, not from strong emotional reaction. It’s like being in chair pose, and my mind says, “Get out!” But if I employ The Watcher and just observe, it gives me time to think about what is going on and to choose how I want to respond.

So let’s say my son talks back or says something pretty rude or critical. In reaction mode, I just want to lash out. But if I’m in Watcher mode, I can tell myself, “Isn’t it interesting that he just did that. I’m not in immediate danger so I don’t have to respond quickly.” I can take a moment to think about the message I want to send him. I can take a moment and remember the results I got last time I lashed out and responded from emotion.

Observe; don’t react. It’s the most powerful tool you have in relationships.


First, let me define what I mean by self-abandon.  I use this term to describe all of the ways we avoid dealing with uncomfortable or painful feelings.  In this context, think of your ‘self’ as the part of you that feels these emotions.  This part of you needs something.  All emotions exist to communicate something valuable to us.  If you engage in self-abandonment (we all do at least sometimes), you are abandoning this part of yourself.  One way to conceptualize this is to imagine a small child who is upset and the adult just turns their back.

The reasons that we self-abandon are pretty easy.  We don’t want to feel pain.  But I contend that the ways we avoid it lead to bigger problems.  Here are the four main ways we do this:

  1. Using substances, addictions and compulsive behaviors. You feel stressed, disappointed, overwhelmed, exhausted, rejected…. so you have a glass of wine (or several), eat carbs mindlessly, go out shopping and spend money you don’t have.  You know exactly what I’m talking about.
  2. You analyze.  Why did he say that?  Why did she leave?  Why is he emotionally unavailable?  How do her childhood scars lead her to act this way?  The list is endless.  And while it is sometimes helpful to understand the actions and motivations of others, this keeps us in our heads and out of our bodies.  Our emotions are experienced in our bodies.  The only way to stay present is to be in your body.
  3. Making others and yourself wrong.  Blaming others or even blaming yourself is just another way to keep your energy focused away from being with what is happening with you right now.
  4. Trying to get others to make you feel better.  This usually involves some sort of controlling behavior.  Getting someone to apologize, admit they were wrong, or change in any way to make you feel better.

The healthy response to dealing with uncomfortable or painful feelings is to feel them.  Right here and now in this moment.  Because even when you are able to feel better using the above strategies, it’s only temporary.  Maybe the other person will decide not to leave, or to treat you more kindly, etc, but that still doesn’t give you the ability to deal with whatever emotions are present in your life.  The way to truly be empowered in your life is to learn how to deal with any emotional discomfort that arises by actually being present with it and letting the energy of the feeling run it’s course.  It actually moves through pretty quickly, once you move into a place of acceptance and allowing.

So the opposite of self-abandonment is acceptance and allowing.

This is the second post in my series “Becoming the Love of My Life” in honor of February. But really it’s in honor of YOU.

And ME.

Today I want to talk about the idea of giving and receiving.  As women, we are usually very good at giving.  We are trained from early on to play “house” and take care of the babies, cook (did you have an E-Z bake oven?) and clean (remember the corn popper vacuum cleaner?).  John Gray asserts in his book Venus on Ice, Mars on Fire that women produce oxytocin (feel good hormone) through giving to our loved ones.

But what happens when we give and give and determine that we are not getting very much back?

I know from my past experience that I have gotten resentful and pissed off.  And that didn’t feel very good.

Here’s why.

Giving has to come from a place of “I have enough”.  If you are giving to another person and there is a place inside of you that believes that you don’t have enough (love, attention, money…), then you are secretly, often without realizing it, wanting and expecting that person to give back to you so you can get your needs met.  This will always feel crappy on some level to the person you are giving to.  Maybe not at first, but over time they will begin to feel the burden and pull back.  And then you begin to notice that you’re not getting much back.  The cycle will just continue.

There is only one solution.

Learn to give from a place of  love, knowing that you ALWAYS have enough and it’s not the other person’s job to love you (it’s their CHOICE).

When you give to another person, it is a choice.  In an adult relationship, when you make dinner for your partner (or any act of love), you are not doing it so that they will take out the garbage, or mow the lawn. Or are you?  Be really honest with yourself and ask.  Every time you GIVE, check in and make sure you are doing it from a place of love and wanting to give.  Because if you are doing it to get something back, I guarantee that in the long run you will lose.  If you keep track, or keep score, you will lose.  It’s not supposed to be fair.

When you finally realize that you have enough love because the main source of love comes from inside of you, you can give freely.

And when you give from that place, the other person will usually WANT to give back because it feels so good.  But if that person feels the burden of being your main supplier of love, it won’t feel good.  It will feel “shackles on”.

So it comes back to self love, doesn’t it?  Learn how to connect to your inner sources of love by doing my three minute Self Love Creationization exercise from this week’s teleclass (I’ll be posting that soon too but if you just can’t wait, send me an email and I’ll send it out to you).

The title for this post really represents a series of blog posts around self love in honor of February. My intention is that you give yourself the gift of greater self love for Valentine’s Day.

Today, I’d like to talk about the idea of “Me Before We”.

Almost every woman I have ever coached (and probably met) was conditioned to believe that it is her role to take care of others.  Especially family.  Many men believe the same thing, however their conditioning tends to be a little less loaded on the self-sacrafice side.  So, many of us came to believe that I must put other’s needs first.

And when it comes to relationships with our mate (any significant other), we learned to always tune in to what he needs before checking in on our own.  Many women report that while growing up, they watched their mother’s always put their father’s needs first.

As someone who has worked with couples for over 20 years and seen every stage of the relationship life cycle, I can tell you that this leads to same result most of the time:

She focuses so much on his needs and learns to disconnect from her own needs.

She focuses so much on his needs that she trains him that her needs are not important.

He stops focusing on her needs as a result.

She gets really, really pissed off at some point and resents meeting his needs.

I think you know where this cycle is going.  It doesn’t work.  But when I teach a woman (again, this can apply to men too) to focus on her needs first, she is horrified:

“That is so selfish, I’m not like that!”

Here is the CARDINAL RULE of healthy relationships, straight from week six of my 8-week course,



The short version is:  ME BEFORE WE

The execution starts with self love.  You have to believe that your needs are important.  You have to value yourself enough to know that you are worthy of your own time and attention.  Just as worthy of it as those you have always sought to give it to.

I’d love to hear what gets in your way… what are your obstacles to self love?  Comment here and we can discuss.

PS  I’m hosting a free teleclass on the 2 biggest obstacles to self love and how to overcome them on February 15.  If you’d like to join, just send me an email with the subject “self love February 15” and I’ll shoot you back the call in details.  No opt-ins!