What Actors Can Learn From Their Reactions

Morgan Freeman says, “Acting is reacting in my book.”

That’s really what it is.

We hear someone say something to us under different circumstances and it makes us react. We cry. We lose our shit. We laugh. We express feeling. We follow an instinct.

Sometimes our reactions—when they aren’t planned and controlled—are surprising to us. The incredible honesty that being in the moment creates, triggers us in unexpected and very human ways.

This is where we want to go in our work. Always. 

But it can also generate a conundrum. React without thinking in our work. And yet as we evolve, stop reacting mindlessly in our lives.

Acting isn’t asking us to be messes emotionally in our lives. It’s actually healing us into working through sticky areas we may have never faced before. Dealing with pain. Learning how to express authentic feeling. Standing up for ourselves. Communicating honestly. Owning our power.

These things can’t be achieved when we live in chaos. Acting doesn’t support that kind of disconnect (or rather, it can), but in the kind of breakthroughs we want to achieve in our lives, acting is the catalyst to become more present with our feelings in a very active, cathartic way.

The challenge is that as we become more mindful in our own lives of how we treat ourselves and others, what we demand for ourselves and what we no longer want to put up with, it oftentimes can make us feel as if we should be inhibiting certain reactions in our work.

Don’t. The actual reacting to things without a censor is also what simultaneously gives us insight into how we can make healthier choices in our own lives. And even though we’re on the road then to becoming enlightened Buddhas, it doesn’t mean we won’t backslide in our own lives.

We will.

You’ll see someone on the street you had a bad run-in with five years ago. You’ll both pretend you don’t see each other. Or you’ll cross to the other side just to avoid him. You’re at the gym and run into someone else you don’t want to see. Eeeeek. You’ll pretend to be on your cell phone. Events like these will demonstrate to us where we’re still stuck.

If connection is what we’re all after, it’s not just sweet, fun, flirty connection. It’s also connection that’s forged through awkwardness and hurt feelings and forgiveness and letting go. It’s created by creating healing with someone or reaching out even though it would be easier to ignore the person. Connection is really about allowing ourselves to be fully expressed even in situations that, at the surface, seem to be about mis-connection.

Icky, weird, awful, confusing, sad, and painful are also experiences of connection just as deep as uplifting, joyful, intimate, loving, creative, and passionate.

Just like in our acting, they’re all, ultimately, reactions—to a moment, a person, a situation, ourselves.

Allow yourself to do more of that in your acting and your life, while at the same time, you’ll be able to become more aware of how you’ve evolved past habituated reactions in life so that you can choose to react differently.

And isn’t that what life is all about? Choosing to react differently to things that we have no control over? That leads to a healthier, happier, more productive, and paradoxically, less reactive life.

*First published on Backstage

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Get Clear in Your Intentions and Get What You Want

Why are we so scared to say what it is we want?

A student recently expressed what his intentions were for his career and he was unspecific. He said something like, “I want to get into rooms.”

Now we understand what that means at one level. He wants to get opportunities. He wants to be seen. He wants casting directors to know who he is.

But at a deeper level, that intention is general. He was standing in a room when he told me this. He already is in a room, so his intention had already been fulfilled.

You have to get specific. How else can the universe—and an extension of it—in the form of people, help you if you aren’t?

Getting clear on an intention helps us understand what an intention actually is. It’s just energy and information.

We know that at a scientific standpoint, our bodies are really a bunch of atoms (which are made up of 99 percent space) coming together to form you. So you’re empty space— which is alive wit-h information and “conversations” if you will, with the universe itself.

Think about the human body. At a cellular level, all processes of the body are in communication with other parts to complete their tasks. It’s all information, energy, and communication. Can you imagine if you had to tell your liver to detox itself after a hard night of partying at Soho House? Your cells already are communicating with one another to do that which you don’t have to be conscious of.

But you have to think of the universe itself as an extension of that information, because it is. As we become more conscious of what we’re thinking about and discussing and expressing, we start to get clearer in our intentions.

I understand why we don’t sometimes declare what it is we want. We hedge our bets because saying it makes us feel vulnerable or receptive to ridicule or puts us out there in a very real way. As another student told me, “It’s embarrassing.”

But you have to stay in relationship with the universe. If you’re too scared to say it, how can you achieve it? The universe isn’t judging your dreams. No one is actually. (Except for those people who are too scared to actually live theirs!) But if you don’t get clear, then what you end up with are lots of hits-and-misses, lots of confusion, and lots of mixed signals.

It’s like dating someone who’s into you one day and the next day they’re out. And then in again. It’s very, very confusing.

A helpful way to get over the hump until you get clearer is to work with intentions that don’t get you so worked up. All of these are more specific than continuously doubting yourself, while simultaneously make you feel better along your path.

This or something better. It’s all working out for me. It’s not about a job. I always ultimately get what I want. I’m really standing in my power now. Isn’t this exciting how it’s all unfolding? It’s safe for me to let go. I don’t have to hold the reins anymore. I’m letting the universe do the work. My work is to put out a clear intention of what it is I want—and then take action to get there, and then let something work out the details for me. 

Now that’s clear.

*First published on Backstage

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Stop “Acting” & Keep It Simple!

All we’re trying to do in acting is to stop “acting” and allow ourselves to be.

This is simple—but it’s not easy.

Just like most things in life, I have found. The basic truths and understanding of many things is born out of simplicity. Human beings overcomplicate to the point of rendering things confusing, pain-inflicting, and sometimes nonsensical.

What if we just started with this basic hypothesis that you’re enough. You are. We all are. But we distrust this, so we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to be someone we’re not and do things to keep us from revealing who we really are.

I get it. We live in a society that’s constantly comparing us to something else and we try to conform ourselves to whatever we feel is marketable or gets the job or is the hot look or is cast-able or popular.

When I look at the work of experts in other fields, I find that the same simple premises apply in all their research. That is, when we work with very simple and concrete expressions of who we already are…miracles occur.

Parenting expert Shefali Tsabary on a recent episode of “Oprah’s Life Class” really breaks down parenting in the most basic and simple terms.

If parents could set aside their agendas, stop trying to control things that are uncontrollable, stop trying to micro-manage and make things or people like they want them to be, the quality of their relationships with their children would improve. She gave this simple advice, “Simply listen to your children.” What is derived from this is the greatest gift: presence.

Like anything in life, it’s learning how to move beyond our egos and letting something greater unfold.

Simple, but not always easy.

TED speaker Shaka Senghor, who spent 19 years in prison, talks about giving ourselves permission to “expand and grow and evolve as human beings. That’s our nature.” And that anybody can have a transformation if we create the space for this to happen.

In prison, no less. Simple concept. Not always easy.

I recently read a Vanity Fair piece about pilot error and training pilots in something called cockpit resource management (CRM). I also spoke to a United Airlines captain who’s a friend of mine—and both the article and my friend talk about the idea that one of the contributing factors to airline fatality can often be attributed to non-communication among the pilots. So moving from an authoritarian, hierarchal system in which one person is the “boss” and has all the answers to the collaboration of everyone in the cockpit, engaging the captain or asking questions if they might disagree…creates a more honest, egalitarian and in this case, safe, environment.

So having honest communication, even when it’s hard. Simple, but not always easy.

It saves lives—literally and figuratively.

All these examples are what we’re not only trying to uncover in our work as actors, but as human beings. To me, it’s about getting back to the underlying simplicity of it all that’s been taught for thousands of years.

Zen Buddhism some 2,500 years ago created a term called Soshin. 

Beginner’s mind. Approaching all endeavors (even those we have done a million times) as if we’re beginners. Instead of working from a supposition that we know it all, try being open to the simplicity of the moment and what each moment wants to show us anew. The mind is then fresh and open and awake and eager to many possibilities.

Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, says this about Zen practice: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Simple…and easy.

*First published via Backstage

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Why Actors Need to Believe

I was teaching at our New York studio a few days ago and had what I thought was a thunderous aha moment.

In this amazing, beautiful, miraculous universe in this incredibly energetic, dynamic, wonderful city filled with so many creative people doing their things…why don’t we believe that what we want is possible?

I mean, really believe.

If the universe can generate the correct nitrogen-hydrogen-oxygen combination to sustain us…

If a mosquito can find you and pluck you out of the darkness and do it’s vampiric work on you…

If you can think of someone you haven’t thought of in years and then all of a sudden, out of the blue, that same person calls you…

If you can take a flight from L.A. to NYC to Nairobi—or pretty much anywhere in the world…

If human beings can feel and emote and dance and sing and paint and act…

Then don’t you think the universe can deliver to you your dream?

The universe constantly wants to yield to us what it is we desire. The problem is, we get in the way of that happening. We doubt, we self-sabotage, we become impatient, we demand our dreams must look a certain way, we give up, we control, we don’t allow.

You don’t get what you wish for in life, you get what you believe.

This can get tricky because our belief systems are often manipulated and shaped by what we continuously experience in our worlds. As actors, this can get magnified because of the nature of the business. We put ourselves out there, we get rejected, we struggle to find representation, we compare ourselves to others and we start to see evidence that what we’re wanting isn’t coming.

The insight here is this: Adapt your circumstances to the belief, not the other way around.

This is hard. We think we have to have all the other stuff before we can actually believe in the belief. In other words, we think we have to have an agent or be booking jobs, or get a callback or book a role or have lots of credits to support the belief.

We have it backwards. The belief comes first. It doesn’t matter if you have never worked a job in your entire life. If your belief is strong enough, your circumstances will change to fit that belief.

Don’t worry about the details. Just work on your beliefs. Sometimes we get scared of what we want. We begin to worry and think, Can I really do that? I don’t think I can pull this off.  When that happens, just work with smaller beliefs to get you to the big ones. In other words, work with beliefs that don’t seem to require a quantum leap and eventually you’ll work your way up to bigger ones. So if doing a movie with Steven Spielberg, let’s say, really triggers doubts, first work with getting a role on a TV show that you feel is in your wheelhouse. After you’ve accomplished that, your belief system will rise to meet its new goal.

Science calls it fake it ’til you make it. 

Spiritual texts would say, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

I’d just say it’s both. If you can dream it and believe it. You can have it.

*First published via Backstage

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How To Generate More Fields Of Possibility!

If you’re going to think thoughts you might as well think big ones.

First off it’s free. Second it feels better to think in terms of possibility and creativity, rather than thinking thoughts that are tethered to our conditioned way of seeing things. That is, incorrectly. Third, that’s how science works.

Scientists call their experiments fields. 

Fields of study.
Fields of research.
Fields of discovery.
Fields of possibility.
Fields of dreams.

It’s open. Wide open spaces. If it weren’t—if the conclusions were already made, if there were nothing to explore, if everything was predetermined—there wouldn’t be a reason to partake in the adventure. Science would cease. Thankfully, scientists don’t see science as a closed box—as limited; as finite. It’s all about experimentation, discovery, possibility.

At a molecular level, possibility exists because of atoms and the fields of potential they create. If you think about life, everything is atom-based, from the tiniest cell to the infinite cosmos itself. So to move possibility from the world of particles and quarks to actual substance requires us to take action.

In the field of possibility, in order to make something happen, it’s up to you.

Possibility begins with you.

Assume something isn’t going to happen if you don’t take action. Because nine out of 10 times it won’t. This isn’t to make you depressed; this is fact. You meet someone at a café and want to say hello but are too scared to do so. The girl pays for her coffee and leaves. The possibility of connection is missed. You were too scared to say something and she may have felt the same thing.

Assume it’s up to you. If you do, you’ll increase your chances of creating more possibility. And more possibility simply means more.

The agent you met at a party a few weeks ago? He might call; he might not. Why not create an active possibility where it lies latent? Convert the dormant potential into something tangibly real.

Life’s not about getting concerned with the outcome or the end result. The girl you ask out at the café—you might discover she has a boyfriend. The agent you finally decide to call—he ended up just signing someone else who’s similar to your type.

The point is that you become empowered by doing. You end up feeling more excited about actually taking action than how it turns out, because you actually start participating in your own life.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what getting activated in our own lives is all about? It’s about trying, taking action, showing up, being seen, risking, putting yourself out there. Stop hesitating, overthinking, and doubting.

When we do take action, it can often lead to the most extraordinary experiences we could’ve ever imagined. Or sometimes, it leads to failure. Who cares?

Either way, you’re no longer merely watching—you’re actually on the playing field. And that’s where possibility exists—not on the sidelines, not in the stands, but in the fields. 

Of possibility.

*Originally published via Backstage*

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The #1 Way to Become More Confident


Confidence. What is it? How do we get it?

Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 Hours Rule and that it takes around that amount of time until you become an expert at what you do. Just by putting in the hours, you will naturally become more confident because you’ve been doing it.

Another social researcher, Amy Cudahy, talks about the science behind “faking it until you make it.” Her research shows that if we allow ourselves to fake our way into things we’re not entirely sure about (and who ever is?) then just by that act alone, we can generate amazing accomplishments in our lives.

I’ve lectured on and practice both principles. They both work.

But what if there’s a sort of in between way of generating results that perhaps allows us to take the quantum leap? It builds on putting in the hours, but at the same time also asks us to fake when we need to.

Confidence. Even when we don’t feel it.

Confidence isn’t being pumped in artificially from the outside. To me it’s almost the contemporary equivalent of the late Latin word enthusiasmus, which comes from the Greek word enthusiasm, which is to be full of, or inspired by, the Divine. Source. Energy. Intelligence.

So we gain confidence by being filled and we get filled by doing. Because the more we do, the more we start to believe that we can do this thing called acting—or writing or singing or dancing. You get there by doing that thing, even if at times it feels like you don’t know what the heck you’re doing at all.

So confidence is born out of our lack of confidence when we first embark on something new. And different experiences and jobs also require different skills. So sometimes things you feel confident in won’t be required in other areas. So if you’re great at comedy, let’s say, and feel confident, you may need to borrow some of that belief to punt your way through drama or classical work or asking someone out on a date or calling that agent you met three months ago.

Confidence is also about making choices that serve us. We often walk around thinking thoughts that make us feel badly. And yet, to shift those thoughts into something that supports us isn’t hard to do. The energy requirement is the same, plus it feels better, but we often don’t do it. We’re lazy thinkers. We get accustomed to believe the things we’ve been taught to believe, even if those thoughts don’t serve us. And weirdly enough, also undermine our confidence!

The thoughts we think aren’t even our original thoughts. They’re thoughts someone else told us that we’ve taken on to become our truth, even when they’re lies. Walking around saying things to yourself like, “Life’s unfair,” or “I suck,” or “I’m stupid,” doesn’t help you. You’ve just been saying it because that’s what you’ve been taught.

So what if for a week, you just tried to mantra “I’m confident,” or “I am capable,” instead of your general go-to. Watch how it will make you feel, well…more confident!

Jessica Chastain in an interview with CBS News says, “I’m still navigating my way through this life. . . I’m not, like, super confident and feel like, ‘Oh, I own my place.’ I do feel a little bit like, well, who knows how long this is gonna last? But I wonder if that will always be the case with me.”

It’s not just her! It just goes to show you: Everyone is a work in progress figuring out confidence as they go along.

*Originally published via Backstage.

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Why Hurricanes Don’t Care What You Think Of Them.


I was on vacation in Mexico last week and I swam in the ocean that was recovering from a west coast hurricane-like condition. The waves were massive. Formidable.

The recent eruptions of Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano have been described as awe-inspiring and incredible.

When we look at nature and respond to its power and force, we generally describe it in terms that befit its epic-ness. And at the same time, we’re almost neutral about it. In other words, we don’t judge it. Nature is just doing its thing. It is what it is.

How often, though, do we describe ourselves (and others) with descriptions that are loaded with self-criticism and negativity and we shut ourselves down because of it?

Partly we do this because we are habituated to do so. Our mindlessness – meaning our running commentary of ourselves and others (and events) – generally is caught in conditioning based on our past and therefore not mindful.

It’s not being generated from the present moment.

The Harvard psychologist, Dr. Ellen Langer, says that when we’re not mindful, we are “Frequently in error, never in doubt.”

We go to an audition and do a great job in the moment. But later, we process it in error and instead see only the mistakes we made. The fumbled lines or the nervousness or the awkward moments we experienced. We then retell the same story differently. Meaning, we no longer believe we did a great job – we instead have no doubt about how bad we were. And that becomes the defining story of ourselves we tell.

If mindlessness makes us be frequently in error, never in doubt, then we become skewed toward seeing things incorrectly, and we don’t doubt seeing things incorrectly.

What that does is create a closed system. We begin to see the world – the business, people, relationships, our possibilities as actors – in a pre-set, determined, and often, limited way.

That’s not only mindlessness, that’s also just not true.

We want to try and see things more neutrally specific. Mindfulness helps us do that naturally. We see things as they are, not as we project meaning onto them.
We stop seeing things from a singular perspective and instead see things in totality, which are how things really exist.

So the challenge is looking at the restrictions we create for ourselves about the business, success, relationships, possibility and ultimately, ourselves.
For to begin seeing ourselves the way we would see a thunderstorm or hurricane
would mean seeing ourselves from a new perspective. Less judgmental and more affirming. Less negative and more neutral. Less limited and more open to interpretation.

In other words, error-free.

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How To Stay Open As Actors When Your EX Makes You Want To Shut Down

We’re all not just trying to become better actors, we’re trying to become better people. (And when I say “better” I am not implying there’s anything flawed or messed up or wrong with you as you are now. The potential of who each of us is – the tiny seed of love and compassion and possibility that dwells within us all – already is perfection.)

But life has this interesting transformational principle, that evokes our hard edges – our places of discomfort and resistance; impatience and places we get stuck – to try to work through these areas to make us better.

There’s really nothing more substantive than acting to assist us in this process, because acting is life.

I have always felt that actors have this innate connection to the deeper mysteries of life. There is a willingness to explore and go to places that, a banker, perhaps, may not be inclined. As seekers, risk-takers, and storytellers reflecting back to humanity what it means to be human, actors sort of have to.

And part of that is also about being more conscious. Thankfully, we’re beginning to quash this age-old myth that says we have to be “messed up” or damaged or bat-shit crazy to do our best work.

No we don’t.

Actually, science has disproved that myth. Our best work as creators comes when we’re whole and healed and empathetic and mindful.

Dysfunction doesn’t create dynamic performance. Or rather, it can, but what’s the point if you end up destroying yourself in the process?

So I often get asked, “Since we’re becoming more mindful in our lives, how does that affect our acting?”

The more we become awake to what we’re actually feeling, the more we can actually use that feeling in real ways in our work.

The point of the work is that we will get triggered, because situations we find ourselves in as different characters are going to evoke our stuff. And lots of it. When we get triggered, we want to allow ourselves to have visceral, unedited, instinctual reactions. Reactions that sometimes we’re trying to be more mindful of not having in life.

This may seem at first defeating of purpose; counterintuitive. But it isn’t. So you’re at the bank and you’re about to go bananas because the bank tellers are moving at a glacial pace and you’re already late for an appointment. But instead you breathe and become aware of your tension and impulse to yell at the woman behind the counter.

The only way we can start to work with feeling in our work is to know what it is and how we try to get around it in life.

This is mindfulness. Not just in our life, but also what we begin to emotionally wield, then, with more dexterity as actors.

When I was in my early 20’s, I didn’t even know what feelings were or what to do with them, so the journey of unraveling it all is what helps us in technique to use feelings to tell story. That’s what technique is about.

So get triggered in your work. Don’t put a stopper on it. Explore, get messy, get weird and wild. Have fun and play. And in life, try to observe when what you may mindlessly say could hurt another person deeply.

There are no take-backs in life. But there is consciousness. Awareness. And learning how to choose a different path when the paths previously taken bring you (and others) nothing but heartache and pain.

As I’m always telling my students, “Save the drama for the stage!”


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How A New Discovery Can Change Your Life


In June, as NPR reported, something extremely rare was discovered. A previously un-contacted Indian tribe in Brazil made contact with civilization.

In this day and age of technology and instant-information-gratification occurring at lightening speed, it’s thrilling to realize that even though we can get data from around the world in two seconds flat, there are still so many things we don’t know.

Thank God.

There are mysteries to be explored. There are new stories yet to unfold. There are possibilities available to us that we often shut out because of our conditioning and seeing things from our set paradigms. There’s magic. And things we don’t even yet know about ourselves.

The political pundits and talking heads on TV who constantly bombard us with information and sound bites and “facts” can often contribute to our hardened-thinking arteries. Over time, we become cynical and jaded. We become “know-it-all’s” but not the kind of knowing we want.

We stop being open and instead recite information from repetition; not discovery. We close off to wonder and instead take things for granted. We drink from the waters of our habituated, conditioned minds, rather than seeking out new streams.

One of our challenges is to try to stop coming at life from this place of thinking that we always know.

Sure, there’s factual stuff we know. The earth is round. New York is 3 hours ahead of Los Angeles time.

Then there’s factual stuff we know that we don’t know. I know that I can’t really solve Pythagoras’s theorem. I also know that I don’t know Japanese.

But possibility lies in another realm. There is a whole other segment to life in which we don’t know that we don’t know.

An unheard-of tribe revealing itself is an example of this. We weren’t even aware that these people even existed. They weren’t a part of our consciousness.

There are wide open spaces out there that exist. In our minds and in our hearts that are waiting to be experienced. But you have to stay open in order to experience them. This is hard. You have to stay open in the face of rejection and denial and people telling you “no”. You have to stay open when people break your heart and abandon you and betray your trust. You have to stay open when you continue to believe the things the industry or the media or the business or the “experts” pontificate.

If you automatically start assuming from this place of “knowing” (which at one level is how the entire world works!) you shut out being open.

But it’s only by being open that possibilities find their way in.

This discovered tribe humbles us into realizing we don’t know as much as we think we know.

And that’s a good thing to know.

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The #1 Word You’re Using That’s Keeping You From What You Want.

Neuroscientist, Andrew Newberg has done research through brain scans showing that there is a word that releases more stress neural chemicals in our bodies than any other word.

It seems obvious.

The word is “no”.

His research shows that even when we simply perceive that word – not just say it – “no” has a negative effect on us.

At one level we’re preconditioned to pay more attention to anything negative because it’s part of our DNA and has helped us to survive. When our cavemen ancestors used permutations of “no” it was part of the flight-or-fight response to keep them from being eaten by a predator and to avoid danger.

But through evolution, our left-brain’s have co-opted that word beyond its survival needs and we’ve become conditioned to saying it habitually – and I would suggest, non-mindfully. This is why we often react to things unconsciously from a fixed narrative that the word “no” supports.

The entire universe is really functioning as one gigantic “yes” and everyone and everything we say “no” to takes us a step away from our center. Which is really possibility.

The poet ee cummings said, “Yes is a world and in this world of yes live (skillfully curled) all worlds.”

So “yes” gives us access to new worlds; new possibilities. It’s inclusive. And “yes” isn’t just a word. It’s feeling. It has an energetic equivalent that shows up in many ways. When we feel joy, that’s a “yes”. When we are compassionate. When we express and forgive; have fun and allow ourselves to be empathetic. These are all acts of “yes”. They are life affirming, expansive gestures and create openings in our life.

“No” doesn’t do that. It’s a closed system.

Our work as artists is to become aware of how often we not only say “no” to things literally – an opportunity, a date, a job possibility, an adventure – but also the more subtle ways we say “no” to ourselves and to life’s calling.

When we tell ourselves we already know the outcome of something before we have actually experienced it – that’s a big fat “no”. So, you have a meeting with an agent and then tell your friends, “I know they won’t take me. They’ve already got someone like me.”

How do you know that? That’s pre-determinism. You already assume a forgone conclusion before you actually have all the information. That’s “no”.

We negate ourselves constantly. “I can’t do that.” “I suck.” “I’m a loser.” “Who would want me?” Or when we complain or whine things off in life.

That’s “no”.

Part of our process in becoming more aware; more present and mindful is to realize that we say “no” to things more often than we imagined.

And when we start saying “no” to things more often than we say “yes” we’re in deep doo-doo.

So, how do you fix that, you might ask?

Simply try saying “yes” this week more often than you say “no”. Catch how often you negate yourself (and others) in ways that are unconscious and habituated. Instead of responding automatically, correct yourself and try “yes” instead.

All kinds of things can happen. You might meet your future boyfriend. You could get a free latte at Starbucks. You might win $5 in SuperLotto. You’d be surprised to see what’s waiting for you. Whole new worlds, perhaps.

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