Social Habits And Sensitive People: The Four Tendencies

Once in a while, we come across concepts that are game changers for us as HSPs. This month, I would like to share something that has helped me in my own journey as an artistic HSP and might help you too. It comes from the work of New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, The Four Tendencies, one of several books she has written on happiness and habits.

Have you ever felt that you are hyper-aware of others’ expectations as an HSP and that it is easy for you to fulfill these outer expectations but somehow very difficult to fulfill your own inner expectations? While this can stem from many different and complex reasons (such as people pleasing), those reasons are not the whole story. It turns out that people have an innate, hardwired tendency that determines how they respond to different kinds of expectations. Learning about these can help us answer that frustrating question: Why am I so good at meeting other people’s expectations but not so good at fulfilling my own?

The Four Tendencies

In her latest book The Four Tendencies, Rubin talks about how different people respond differently to expectations. The seed of the book came in a conversation that Gretchen Rubin had with a friend. Rubin says:

“As I bit into my cheeseburger and my friend picked at her salad, she made a comment that would occupy my mind for years. In an offhand way, she mentioned, “I want to get myself in the habit of running, but I can’t, and it really bothers me.” Then she added, in a crucial observation, “When I was on the high school track team, I never missed track practice, so why can’t I go running now?”

“Why?” I echoed.

“Well, you know, it’s so hard to make time for ourselves.”

“Hmmm,” I said.”

Rubin and her friend then started talking about other things, but even after they’d said goodbye, she couldn’t stop thinking about their exchange. Why was it that it had been easy for her friend to go running in the past but that wasn’t the case anymore? Was it her age, her motivation, her family situation or something else?

Explorations About Social Habits

Although her friend had assumed that everyone had “trouble making time for themselves,” that wasn’t true for Rubin. She did not have any trouble making time for herself. So, what was the difference between them? Rubin would spend the next few years trying to answer this question.

This search led to Rubin asking some preliminary questions to readers of her website. She found, weirdly enough, that groups of people answered the same question in 4 identical ways, almost down to the words they were using. To the simple question of “How do you feel about New Year resolution?” a subset of people gave this almost identical answer: “I’ll keep a resolution if it’s useful, but I won’t start on New Year’s Day, because January 1 is an arbitrary date.” Rubin was intrigued by the use of this specific word because the arbitrariness of the January 1 date had never bothered her. But so many people gave the same answer; what did they have in common?

In a similar way, another group answered: “I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore because I never manage to keep them—I never make time for myself.”

Another group said: “I never make resolutions because I don’t like to bind myself.”

It was after a lot of this give and take on her blog and people naturally dividing themselves up into 4 distinct groups that Rubin had her eureka moment. She had found the key! The underlying question was: “How do you respond to expectations?” Answering this question led to her book, The Four Tendencies.

Expectations And The Four Tendencies

In fact, we all face two kinds of expectations: inner and outer. An inner expectation is something we place on ourselves, like a New Year’s resolution, while an outer expectation is something like a work deadline. Depending on how you respond to these expectations, Rubin found that people fell into one of these four types or four tendencies:

  1. Upholders respond to both outer expectations and inner expectations.
  2. Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect, they respond only to inner expectations
  3. Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.
  4. Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

Guess where I fell on this framework? I was an Obliger. If something was imposed from the outside, like a work deadline, I usually met it. But for years, I could not figure out why I wasn’t able to do enough on the side (like some people I knew were able to do), to switch careers or work on my writing. It turns out that Obligers need outer accountability. So, if you have an inner expectation, you have to, in a sense, turn it into an outer expectation and then, you will likely complete it.

Looking back, I saw that I had only written consistently and been most productive when I had been part of writing workshops. Here, I was expected to write, and I did. But left on my own, time would trickle down and I wouldn’t get to doing something that I, personally, wanted to do. Instead, I was getting caught up in other people’s agendas and running around helping (or unhealthily rescuing) first this person and then another.

It was after I let myself practice this concept (instead of thinking that I “should” be able to motivate myself on my own (something that Upholders, for example, find easy to do), that I finally got a writing coach. This turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have made in a long time. I have written more, more consistently than I have ever before in my life. I have applied for a writing grant that took months of work. For the first time in my life, I have felt that I am finally on my path.

What it took was re-framing something basic about me. This is similar to the kind of re-framing we often have to do as HSPs. An Obliger wrote something to Gretchen Rubin that I resonate with:

“As a TV writer, I’ve struggled miserably with my inability to stick to any kind of personal deadline, yet I’ve always been a dutiful employee who submits scripts on time to my boss. I’ve given this tendency many names: laziness, being irresponsible, being a child in grown-up clothes, and many terms that wouldn’t get past your spam filter. By giving me a new name—Obliger—you’ve given me a way to accept myself. I can put the self-loathing aside and concentrate on devising clever ways to trick myself into doing stuff. It’s already made me more productive, but more importantly, it’s made me much happier.”  

Are You An Obliger?

Of course, as an HSP, you might not fall into the Obliger category. But considering that it is the largest category (Rubin’s study found that 41% of the sample were Obligers), I think there are many HSPs who are also Obligers. Maybe you, like me, have gone for years meeting other people’s expectations, and then suddenly, everything becomes all too much and you say a big No. Obligers are often prone to burnout and at certain points in their lives, to what Rubin calls Obliger rebellion. Suddenly, or so it seems to other people, we have had enough and we won’t take anymore. Then, we walk out, literally or metaphorically. So, learning about how we are wired and how to make that work for us can be crucial in keeping our resentment stores down.

Also, understanding the different categories can help us understand the people around us. For example: Although Upholders and Obligers both want to meet outer expectations, Obligers are much more prone to burnout because Upholders also hold themselves to their inner expectations. Upholders might also be dismissive of other tendencies who need different things than they do. Rebels (only 17% in the sample, with the fewest members) resist expectations and can get into all kinds of tussles with people who expect them to comply with outer expectations (like Upholders). A Questioner child who has to be given a reason to do every little thing might be trying for a parent who is an Upholder or Obliger. But getting a whole picture and seeing the strengths and weaknesses of each type might help us relate better to different people. It can also give us a perspective on how different social contexts might work or not work for a particular type. Rubin gives an example of how a Questioner might be highly valued in a place like Silicon Valley but get into trouble in a place like North Korea. A Rebel, if they become a rebel without a cause, might just be highly annoying. But rebels are also the ones who question existing systems and can help bring about change. As always, the context as well as the other qualities of that person matter.

Like me, you might have several “ahas”  if you read The Four Tendencies and come to see that we often see the people around us as very similar to ourselves. Sometimes, we think that they should be motivated by the same things as ourselves. We think that what works for us is what works for them. But that’s not true. Like Rubin tells us in this and other books, often diametrically different things are the keys to different people’s happiness and success. The question is: What specifically works for you as an individual? What is your own nature?

This is, of course, a bare-bones portrait of Rubin’s four tendencies. But like me, maybe figuring out your own tendency might provide as an essential missing piece for you as an HSP and help you in your own journey.   

The Gift Of Compassion From Sensitive People

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always handle doctor’s office visits well especially with procedures involving unexpected pain. All too often, there is a sudden cold sweat followed by nausea and lightheadedness signaling I’m getting ready to faint. For the Highly Sensitive, fainting can be our ingrained response to the invasiveness of  modern medicine followed by the emotional recognition of what is actually happening to our bodies. Dramatic as it may seem, I need to avert my eyes when receiving injections lest I find myself requiring smelling salts in the aftermath.

Giving And Receiving Compassion

There is a bright spot in these experiences; whenever my face turns that pasty shade of gray during a procedure, I’m deeply touched by the compassion shown by the nurses who come to my aid. In the face of an environment where people are often at their physical and sometimes emotional worst, nursing is the profession where I encounter the highest number of Highly Sensitive people in the workplace. Perhaps everything is as it should be; our inherent capacity to feel another’s person’s distress brings with it the compassion generated from experiencing that pain first hand.

Always a remembered gift to those receiving it, compassion isn’t something which can be faked. You have it to give or you don’t. While for the Highly Sensitive extending compassion may feel like a second nature, understanding the gift of receiving it sometimes requires a bit more work.

Manny’s Compassion

Some years ago I attended a workshop hosted by author Manny Twofeathers. Manny was standing by the front door of the bookstore as I pulled into the parking lot by the front of the building. He had stepped outside to clear his head after giving intuitive readings for clients most of the afternoon. I was glad to see him again. During a lecture he had presented  few weeks earlier  regarding his experiences with the Sundance Ceremony outlined in his book My Road to the Sundance, he had shown me how to tie a prayer flag for a friend  diagnosed with breast cancer. Taking it with him when he left, Manny mentioned it would be taken to a sacred spot where he would pray for her. That was Manny; in his role as an Elder he extended compassion towards people through actions reflecting  his deep spiritual faith.

At the bookstore that evening,  Manny was hosting a divination workshop based on his latest book; Stone People Medicine. After a brief introduction where he explained the role and use of the stones and cards used in the divination process, Manny had us sit at a circular table. He sat next to me on my left. Handing me the cards and the stones, he told me to read for the woman sitting on my right in order to answer questions she had about her life. His actions startled me, I had expected that he would show us the process by reading for us. Due to my sensitivity I didn’t always like to be in the spotlight especially in front of  a group of strangers. Studying his face for a brief moment, I tried to get a read on his thoughts, but his eyes were hidden behind the deep wrinkles of his face. While I had often done one on one intuitive work for friends, I had never “read” for someone I didn’t know and the thought of it made me  uncomfortable.

Honoring The Gift Of Compassion

Manny watched silently as I consulted the stones and cards to answer the woman’s question. His only  response, when I was done was to ask her if her question had been fully answered. Thinking I was finished, I tried to hand the cards and stones back to him but he wouldn’t take them. Instead, he told me to read for the person sitting next to her. Regardless of my discomfort, the process continued. Manny directed me to read for every person at the table; finally finishing with the owner of the bookstore who was sitting next to Manny. Her reading was the hardest of all;  the divination predicted very dry times ahead, leaving me with a vision of such desolation it almost brought me to tears.

Manny continued the process by having some of the other people sitting at the table read for others.But, I had been the only one chosen to read for all. Although curious about why  he had chosen me to read for everyone, I knew it would be very disrespectful to ask an Elder about his actions. I could feel there was a bigger picture at play here and  for that I was grateful.

After the workshop had ended, I went over to Manny to thank him. Accepting my thanks, he looked me in the eye and said that my visions were very strong. That was his only comment about the workshop. One thing about the Highly Sensitive, we know instantly when someone is not being honest with us. I didn’t get that feeling as he spoke although I had a hard time believing it. In hindsight, the workshop was a turning point in my life and his words would be a source of comfort. Through those words, I began to see myself and my spiritual path in a different light; I knew I didn’t need to hide the intuitive aspect of myself from strangers for fear of ridicule or criticism.

After the workshop, I never saw Manny again. He became ill and died in a Tuscon, Arizona VA Hospital during June of the following year. In my bedroom is one of the dream catchers Manny made and sold while on the road. Due to my strong belief  in the power of our dreams I had purchased it from the owner of the bookstore not too long after the workshop. Hanging above the headboard,  it is a beautiful reminder  of our conversation. Ever silent it protects us from the images contained within the shadow side of our dreams as my  wife and  I travel the terrain of the dreamscape.

Stepping Into The Gift Of Compassion

A few weeks ago while standing in my den, I felt a strong urge to read  My Road to the Sundance over  again. Later that evening, I broke out in goosebumps when reading his words on page 65. Summarizing his insights from an experience where he felt unworthy when asked to pray for a woman Elder after one of the first Sundance Ceremonies, he wrote; ” We believe that sometimes the creator sends a helper to teach us. If she was a helper, I think her mission was to show me I was now ready to help people. In helping her, it gave me confidence in my ability to help others.” 

For the Highly Sensitive, compassion appears in many forms. We don’t always recognize it when it appears. But, the end result is always the same; we are supported through what is experienced as a mental or physical challenge. I hadn’t seen the compassion in Manny’s actions during the workshop because I was too engaged in the energy of my fears. But I saw it then and his compassion is what I’ll always remember about him.

Manny always admonished us to give something back to the world as a gesture of thanks whenever we receive anything in our lives. The law of Karma, as recognized in the ancient spiritual traditions of India reminds us that every choice made creates the landscape of our daily journeys. Both work hand in hand. For the Highly Sensitive, perhaps our naturally compassionate actions is a way of giving back to the world a taste of the  gift we have been given; a way of returning our capacity to feel deeply, to those who need it most.

Finding The Nurturing Sensitive Person Within


Five years ago, I moved from India to the United States as a trailing spouse. It was soon after that I read Dr. Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person. The book felt familiar, and yet new, giving me a context for the “too sensitive” label that had followed me since childhood. Now, I was once again face to face with my sensitivity, once again in a tussle with overwhelm. In the first few years of the move, I often met people who told me that adjusting was simply a matter of a few months or a year. Maybe, they were hardier than me. Or maybe, they had just forgotten what their own shift had been like.  

This wasn’t my experience, and so in the beginning, I felt extremely isolated. As usual, it was taking me longer to make changes. As usual, there were people ahead of me. As usual, my own experience was not mirrored back.

Rediscovering The Need For Nurturing

But after five years living in the States, which has been a roller-coaster ride, sometimes feeling intensely alive, sometimes feeling as if I am going to topple over, I have come to a place where I think that I might have started off the move asking the wrong questions. Most of my life, I have tried to ask: How can I get people to understand me? How can I find someone else to look and see me?

But with this move and living in a culture very different from the one I grew up in, has nudged me towards different questions. If others might not see me, what options do I have? How can I see myself? How can I feel stable when things are shifting around? How can I become my own good mother?

This learning of self nurturing has, and continues to be, a difficult process for me. After all, self-compassion is not as easy as 1-2-3, no matter how many motivational quotes we read. For some of us, the template for a nurturing figure is missing in our own psyches. We often come up blank and feel at a disadvantage when we compare ourselves to people who seem (at least on the outside) to take great care of themselves. Even when we fall down in our attempts to take care of ourselves, we judge ourselves. Where is that nurturing voice in our own self?  

If you have had trauma or neglect in your past, you might struggle with your attempt to construct this positive care-taking nurturing figure as well. I understand your struggle. I know it feels terribly unfair. I know it can make things doubly hard.  

For me, this nurturing voice is something that is still finding its feet. It still falters and regresses. But ten years ago, or even five years back, this was a voice that was very feeble. Feeding my nurturing voice has made it stronger.

Over the past five years, I have chanced on and used some tools that have helped me become more intimate with my own nurturing self. Some of them have helped me manage the emotional intensity that is at the center of my own experience. Some have held up a mirror to my wounded parts. They have shown me ground reality. There is more work to be done. Here are some of those tools. I hope some of them might resonate with you or give you a clue that helps you on your own path:  

Here are some of those tools. I hope some of them might resonate with you or give you a clue that helps you on your own path to self nurturing.

Self Nurturing Through Dream Work 

 I have always had vivid dreams and been deeply interested in knowing about dreams. But I grew up in a rational-minded family that had left the dreams and dreamers of old India behind. My interest in dreams had seemed superficial. But when I moved to the States, my dream world intensified and beckoned to me once again. In the beginning, there were often lakes and rivers overrunning their boundaries. That meaning seemed pretty simple.

I was overwhelmed in real life, feeling as if my emotions were going to run me over. But more than a year after my wedding and the move, I was still having dreams of wedding ceremonies taking place. What did all this mean, if it meant anything at all? Who were these characters roaming on the stage at night? It was then, with my building curiosity, that I finally followed this deep interest. I started writing down my dreams before they disappeared into thin air. 

I started reading books on Dream Work. The more I read, the more I realized that some of the most intelligent minds in the field of psychology had worked seriously with dreams. Carl Jung, the great psychologist who gave us the concepts of Introvert, Extravert and Persona, thought that dreams were the bridge to the unconscious, a part of us that not just included what we had repressed but also our creative potential (in stark contrast to Freud who thought dreams were merely about things we had repressed). Working with dreams is a major part of Jungian analytical psychology.

In our dreams, we come across many different parts of our self. Many of us meet our Shadow, those parts of us that we don’t consciously identify with. In one of my Shadow dreams, I walk behind a woman who in real life is very task-focused. In the dream, I notice that there are amethysts growing on the side of the road. But I ignore them, even though my heart pulls me towards them, and I trudge obediently behind. We are afraid we will miss a train, and this woman is keeping me on task. But in the end, the train is there, and a feeling comes over me that I shouldn’t have hurried. I puzzled over this dream for long before I realized that not just the obedient woman, but the task-focused woman was me as well. I was driving myself forward, trying to control the outer world and I was missing the gifts of the move, the things that I had to pause to ingest and make mine. With dreams like this, I saw my Shadow and its different aspects.

As I owned it and made changes in my waking life, my dreams changed as well. In other dreams, I came across other characters. One of these is the “other” in each of our psyches. Jungians tell us that every woman has a masculine principle inside her – “the animus”, just as every man has a feminine principle, “the anima”. Sometimes, the animus is negative. In women’s dreams, we often have male figures chasing after us, holding us hostage even when we are pretty secure in everyday life. We then have to turn to see how we relate to the masculine. What does it mean to us? How has it been modeled?

Dreams provide a mirror for what we are experiencing right here, right now, even if we are not consciously acknowledging our feelings. Dreams also seem to provide a commentary, almost as if there is an objective observer/principle inside us looking at what we are doing, and giving us its opinion. For me, working with my own dreams has been the most wonderful adventure I have taken in years. If you are interested in dream work, some accessible, yet layered books are Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill by Jeremy Taylor who has facilitated Dream Workgroups in places as fascinating as the San Quentin prison and the great humanistic psychologist Erich Fromm’s book The Forgotten Language. Dreams really are a language we all share, whether we realize it or not. Like I did, maybe you will find that these books will lead you onto many more, or to people that could help you work with your dreams and relate to parts that have fallen by the wayside.      

Self Nurturing Through Colors

I think of myself as an artiste in the broadest sense. I used to perform as a classical dancer. I write. I love photography. One sense that I did not feel as connected to was my visual sense. I have always felt as if people who see in images or have pictures pop up in their head had access to a way of being that felt missing for me. That was until a few years ago, when I started writing by hand. This was a time when I had just started blogging, when I was still trying to find that elusive thing writers search for, my “voice.” As I did some playful writing exercises by hand, I had the experience of images popping up in my head. It was as if connections were being made, one note was struck and reverberated. Like much of creativity, it was a mysterious, but at the same time “normal” process. It did not feel jarring or otherworldly. In fact, it felt like “me.”

With these images and my interest in following my intuition and feelings, my interest in colors heightened. I had always loved colors. Now, I was curious about them. Like always, I read any books I could find and listened to other people’s experiences with color. I remembered how there was a time in my life where I wore a lot of yellow, a color associated with the solar plexus chakra, the chakra for personal power, at a time when I sorely needed more will and power in my life. I noticed how I often unconsciously reached for reds, at a time when I was creating a structure for my new life here in the States, a color associated with grounding. I started making art and instinctively using colors that called to me – purple and green and red and orange. One tool that I have discovered, love using and highly recommend are Inna Segal’s

One tool that I have discovered, love using and highly recommend are Inna Segal’s The Secret Language of Color Cards. These color cards come with a booklet that explains colors and their healing properties and include meditations to bring those energies into your life. My experiences with these meditations and observing what colors different people are drawn to has deepened my already deep belief and interest in colors. For example: I know people with breathing problems who use Peach intuitively, a color Inna says helps with breathing. Another instance: after I made a painting with peach as the main color and shared the image with a friend, she talked about how she was having a hard day, and seeing the painting gave her relief. She could feel herself “breathing slower and deeper.” That, I think, is the magic of colors. I think working with colors has also shown me that there is a deeper part of us that intuitively picks out what is right for us. This is important for us to remember as sensitive people, who might have gotten the message that our way of being is faulty. It’s important to realize that we don’t even have to buy a book or look at what an expert has to say (although that can be insightful). Something in us is already self nurturing, reaching out for the things it needs. 

Self Nurturing Through Art

If you are an HSP like me, whose struggles with their sensitivity are often centered around the intensity of their feelings, you have probably thought: What do I do with these intense feelings? How do I become more “normal?” These questions might have come cracking at you time and again. As I think about these questions now, I am in my mid-30s. I have spent decades trying to slay the dragon of my feelings, wondering why I am so “intense.” It is only in the last few years, in sporadic, embryonic bursts, that I have started thinking, maybe, This is my normal. Without the way I respond to the world around me, I would be less than I am. Maybe, what these feelings need is a channel, so they flow through. They are almost like raw materials, to be painted, to be written about, to be shaped into characters, to be photographed in the shimmering shadows all around me. Maybe, what we need is not to contain feelings we don’t like (which is impossible) but to re-frame our intensity and see that we are also on the verge of drawing back the curtain on the beauty a little bit. Then, we can actively search for those beautiful, succulent moments that we feel as deeply as we feel all our hurts and pain.

Right now, as I write this, I am travelling. I am in Austin, Texas. Yesterday, I went to see a sight that this city is famous for. Up to 1.5 million bats live under a bridge in downtown Austin. Every summer night, hundreds of people wait for it to get dark to see North America’s largest urban bat colony emerge.

The show, as it was, went on for more than half an hour yesterday. After sunset, the bats came out. In the backdrop was a cityscape that felt like Gotham city. The bats flew over the flowing water below, searching for insects. There were boats on the water, one with a red light, pointed towards the bridge. Some people clapped. As it became dark, after some time, all you could see were quick flashes as the bats flew. There were some precious moments when I felt connected to the magic of this world. Something opened, and the world belonged to these bats that have become an emblem for Austin.

Once upon a time, the city did not want these bats. They thought they were a menace. It was only with time and the effort of conservationists that they realized how helpful the bats were in keeping even agricultural pests down. Now they are emblematic for a city that has this as its slogan – Keep Austin Weird.

Weird is enchanting. Weird is something not so commonly seen. Weird is something living out its own kooky life.

As people who sometimes feel on the margins, who sometimes fall down the crevices in an attempt to be “normal,” weird is that something which shows you the world in a way that others don’t view it, as yet. It connects you to the bigness of this world. It helps you take flight.

Whatever it is you feel, whether it is an interest that has no decided path, a nudging curiosity about something that only you seem interested in, that irrational something is probably the call of your own path. Why wouldn’t we, just like everything else that exists, not have it inside us to find our own direction or to rise on the currents around us? Why would we have to struggle so much to find our place in the order of things? Maybe, it’s because we have been taught to look outside at others for direction, and not at our own inner world, our own promptings that tell us to first turn this way, and then that.  

If we could just listen to it, then we could take wing. Maybe, then, we could be part of the magic of this world. 

Breaking The Failure Taboo

Failure is something that many of us if not all of us have been taught to be afraid of.

Unfortunately, failure is a big subject and perceptions about failure are not necessarily innocent.

Fear of failure causes so many people to hide and makes them afraid to be themselves. What a loss!

Why Failure Is Such A Big Subject

Failure has been a big subject throughout human history.

If you take a look at ancient myths and stories many of them are as much about failure as about bravery.

In early human societies, failure was dangerous. Failure was life threatening and the consequences were often death. Even community games required or resulted in human sacrifice. The Mesoamerican Ballgame of early Aztec societies was one example, but there are many others.

Failure was particularly problematic for early humans, because they had very little knowledge about the actual causes and effects of events in their lives. You could say that life was a guessing game but a serious one.

The Seriousness Of Failure Stuck

There was certainly plenty to be afraid of in early human societies.

War, disease, weather, lack of resources were all factors that made life seem fragile. However, it seems that we often made the problem worse with superstitious rule making and worship of gods and ancestors. Although they were forms of self protection, they were practices that led to some serious scapegoating. I would have been afraid to be alive then myself.

People who were different were definitely targets of superstition and to some degree are still today. Perhaps because the uncertainty of survival resources, like food and water as well as continual war made demands on each society extreme.

The Fear Of Scapegoating

What constitutes success and failure have been and are still culturally prescribed. Your occupation, performance and family status are three ways in which we are often judged. We have also inherited our fears about not measuring up.

The serious need to ensure our survival as a species has come at a serious cost. We have so limited what we call acceptable behavior that we often to not realize how much we have cut ourselves off from our natural abilities and talents.

In addition, the serious treatment of and consequences for failure, real or not, right or not, has stuck in our mental programming. To this day, we humans do not handle failure well.

The fear of scapegoating is a serious inhibitor of our social, professional and creative behavior. In many cases we not be aware of it as an inherited fear. It is there under the surface and deep inside us if we look and reflect on it.

Failure And Creativity

Failure is such a big deal that human creativity has been controlled and thwarted for thousands of years in the attempt to create some stability and certainty in human societies. As justified as the desire for stability is, the universe – all parts of it – is essentially creative.

I am always amazed by animals who take the uncertainty of life in stride and find a way to enjoy the good they find. They do not fight life as we often do.

When we fight our natural creativity, we are fighting life and ourselves. At the end of the day, that cannot be rewarding or an enjoyable way to live life.

We all know of individuals or have ourselves experienced the blame that gets put on people for something they did not do or over which they had no control.We all know how wrong it is and how lousy it feels to be scapegoated. Do we, however, pay too high a price to avoid that fate?

What Is Failure?

It is worth considering what failure is. Failure has been associated with vulnerability and uncertainty for thousands of years.

But that is not really what it is.

Much effort has been made in the past 50 years to recognize the degree to which our lives are dominated by the stories we tell ourselves and others about life. These stories often relate to our vulnerability – self created and culturally created. Often these stories shut down our creativity.

By embracing the colorful but potentially “dangerous” aspect of ourselves we can open ourselves up to our creativity and take responsibility for it.Creativity is not irresponsibility.  It may actually be irresponsible not to embrace our full creativity.

I am all for some comfort in life. However, we need to realize that security is a story we tell ourselves just like any other. When we rigidly put safety first we not only deny reality which never works, but also sacrifice quality of life and joy for stability.

Is that really the trade-off we want to be making?

The Importance Of Uselessness

Being useless feels awful.

Being useful feels good, doesn’t it?

It is nice to feel valued and know we are valued. It helps us to feel secure.

It also means we are supported to others and that we are welcome in the world.

Is There A Stigma For Uselessness?

As a highly sensitive person, I suspect that the highly sensitive suffer more from the label of uselessness because:

  • we need more rest and frequent breaks
  • we are not handy for dramas and emergencies since we operate more slowly
  • we question a lot of things including others view of what is useful – like I am doing now!

Busyness often seems like much ado about nothing.

The Problem With Being Useful

We live in a very strange time. People are expected to be highly productive. However, in spite of the demands for productivity, we are often replaced by machines.

We are filling up the planet with huge amounts of garbage – the residue of our productivity. We are becoming sicker and sicker from our efforts to survive in a system that makes us obsolete.

Being productive does not mean taking good care of ourselves. It does not mean developing greater self-reliance. It means participating in the consumption business: supporting it, making it work and reaping rewards from it.

In other words, being dependent on it.

This is one of the observations that highly sensitive people will make about our current system and the idea of being useful: we are really making ourselves dependent.

Busyness Is NOT A Sign Of Intelligence

Busyness has a fatal flaw. It keeps us engaged tactically and removes us from considering the big picture.

As a highly sensitive person, I notice when the big picture and present activities are at odds. In fact, I notice when anything is at odds. Busyness is what we expect from subordinates, the foot soldiers of modern life, the Hans Brinkers of our increasingly decaying commercial system. That means that busyness does not make us masters of our fate. Just the opposite.

Busyness does not seem like such a great deal. It is worth asking ourselves why we are doing all this.

Why are we?

Are You Engaged?

Many people think of being busy as the same thing as being engaged. Often we are made to think that slowing down is a kind of disengagement, even an abandonment of our responsibilities.

But engagement demands a lot of presence. Busyness does not. So when we are being very busy in many we ways we are increasing our disengagement with life. We stop asking important questions about what we are doing and why.

Why Uselessness Improves Engagement

When we are being useless we are open to whatever comes our way. Whatever information that needs to shape our perception comes when we are that moment of rest and open to it.

When we are useless, we are open to a different agenda. It could be the voice of our innermost self speaking to us. It could be an awareness of the big picture that shows itself to us.

Nothing can reach us if we are not receptive. So uselessness is a way of being receptive to inputs from any and all sources. When we are receptive, then we engage in a different way, in a more informed way, in a more complete way. It shows up in our work. We do work that is more on point. we waste less time on that which is irrelevant or unimportant and we know the difference.

We rise to the level of creator and steward which gives us and others a greater experience of satisfaction.

Sensitivity And Being Useless

One of the challenges of being sensitive is that it is hard to fool ourselves. We know when busyness is hollow, counterproductive or destructive. We can feel it.

However, we need to work and want to work in a way that suits us. Adopting the openness of being useless lets us sidestep busyness for a form of engagement that is rewarding to us.

It is a good idea for each HSP to spend some time each day not just resting but being useless and open to the voice and wisdom of our true selves.

Our receptivity will reward us with greater enjoyment and fulfillment.

Enjoy The Benefits of Gratitude!

Do you ever get annoyed when you hear the word gratitude?

How do you feel when you hear that you “should” be grateful?

Frankly, it has not my favorite word because I have seen it used manipulatively so often.

So it came to me – perhaps as a result of last week’s election – that ideas about gratitude can often be wrong.

Gratitude Is Not A Debt

Gratitude is not a debt. It is a way of being.

Most often the word gratitude is used to extract something from someone else. It is often used in a mercenary way and that is an ungrateful act.

Gratitude is too often framed in economic terms as something you should feel for receiving any goodness. It is a way of thinking that treats the negative in the world as normal, and the good in the world as a favor.

However, that is not how gratitude really works from what I can see.

The big problem with the economic view of gratitude is that is assumes misery is natural and normal. It assumes that the good is acquired through struggle.

Suppose that is wrong?

A Different View Of Gratitude

A better kinder view of gratitude is to see the good in the world as something we all share and are entitled to. It does not really belong only to some people.

A better view is to see the good in all people because it is there in all of us.

A better view is to see our lives as an opportunity to contribute to the common good which we are a part of anyway.

A better way is to help others to see the good in themselves so that they do not feel isolated from the good in the world.

A better way is to preserve the common good and maintain the common good in the world as a matter of self-respect and respect for others.

A better way is a simple direct experience of the goodness in the world.

The Benefits Of Feeling Grateful

Thinking of the good in the world as natural, normal and there for all of us eliminates struggle, resentment, and the need to see anyone or anything as an enemy.

It helps us take what we need but not more since there is no one to impress or surpass.

When we see the good as natural then we can relax, give up our defenses, our fight against others.

It’s a relief and a chance worth taking.

How To Eliminate The Inner Critic In 5 Minutes Or Less

Perhaps your inner critic is nicer to you than mine is to me. Perhaps not. Inner critics are one of the main causes of unhappiness in life. It is a master at helping us to feel bad about something. The list is endless: something wrong with us or the world; it never stops, until we stop it. So how can we silence an inner critic attack quickly? in 5 minutes or even less? I call it the Get Real Method for handling the inner critic. The inner critic will always be a part of you. So the first step is to understand it and make it work for you.To get started:

  • you need to accept it. Most people fight their inner critic when it exists to protect us. Life has always been challenging so it has a useful purpose when it is not out of control.
  • to give it what it wants in a way that helps and not harms you. The inner critic wants a couple of things from you:
    • to feel safe. Its purpose is to watch out for danger.
    • feel appreciated. Don’t we all even when we are wrong?

These are the questions that I would suggest you ask yourself, and of course feel free to add your own:

  1. Is the issue a present issue, a past issue, or a future potential problem?
  2. Is the source of the issue
    1. a recurring unresolved problem that you need to learn from?
    2. something you need to let go, someone to forgive, or a need to forgive yourself?
    3. an unresolved conflict about the values you were taught vs. the values you want to live by?
    4. something I may have missed?
    5. a new factor that I was not aware of?
    6. something I need to pay attention to or something I can let go of?
    7. my inner critic creating dramas?
  3. Is this an emergency, an ongoing developmental issue, or a daily living detail?

Once you can frame the issue, you can start to formulate your strategy and resolve the problem.

So the trick to handling the inner critic is to appreciate its focus and dedication but realize that it suffer from excessive zeal and hyper dedication to a thankless task. And then apply the Get Real Method.

The Get Real Method involves asking yourself a number of question to sort out the concern of the inner critic so that you can decide what to do and move on.

The inner critic is like a conveyor belt of problems and it sees them everywhere. It is your job to decide which ones to act on. Since the inner critic is extremely aware, it can be useful for helping you to avoid problems or it can be a pest. It is only doing its job.

I find however that the inner critic relaxes more when you don’t fight it, and when you appreciate its intention. So even when it is not being particularly productive approaching it with a kindly and appreciative attitude can do wonders for making your life easier and happier.

How Tolerance Makes Us Smarter


I was reading an article recently that discussed how many people want what they want but have little curiosity about how what they want is created. Although that is a huge generalization, it made we wonder about some of the costs to ourselves of our fast, highly mechanized society.

The High Cost Of Machines

I think it is degrading to treat people as just consumers like children waiting for candy every day. It marginalizes us and keeps us dependent. This dependency suggests that we have lost our ability to take care of our needs. Perhaps we have. We have machines that take care of many mundane tasks to that we do not have to. We have schools that prepare us to live primarily as consumers. We are now used to the “freedom” to go to the store when we need something.

Should the status quo change do we have schools that teach us how to survive and thrive on our own? What do we do that requires patience, perseverance and resilience? Are we are so reliant on machines that we have surrendered important part of our personal development?

The Benefit Of Mundane Tasks

Mundane tasks are wonderful for our development. Whether it is cleaning our house, tackling some routine maintenance, weeding a garden or cooking a meal, these daily tasks help us engage in productive ways with our lives. They teach us to pay attention, to stick with the task even if it is not particularly enjoyable, to handle the minor mistakes that we make, and to participate in the process of getting something done. It feels good to engage in our own lives.

Mundane tasks also do something else – they teach us tolerance.

They teach us to tolerate the unpleasant, the boring, the mistakes, the inconvenience the surprises and disappointments.

The Gifts Of Tolerance

What gifts does tolerance bring us?


  • enables us to become strong through struggle. An obvious example is how a bird hatches from its egg after a struggle to break out. Only when its strength is adequate does it emerge. We have to tolerate our weakness as we grow strong, the weakness of other people in our lives and challenges that comes with strength. We also have to tolerate that what may be a strength today may be a weakness tomorrow as we and the world change.
  • helps us become wise. We are each a jumble of desires, impulses and energies that we need to learn how to channel wisely. We have to tolerate our mistakes and disappointments in order to learn how to make wise decisions. We have to tolerate false starts, blind alleys, and wrong directions to learn how to make our way in the world.
  • enables us to see into the heart of a situation or another person. It is our own tolerance for our struggles that enables us to look kindly on other people and their challenges. It is our tolerance for ambiguity that lets us be with our thoughts and feelings as difficult as they can be sometimes to be fully aware of the present reality of a person or situation.
  • guides us through the trial and error process of learning. We cannot know in advance. Too often I hear the expression that someone “should have known…”. Nonsense! We are not omniscient. Where the demand or expectation comes from I do not know. As a species we are often intolerant of the not knowing of things. However, if I look out into nature, I do not see a tree worried about not knowing. It just is a tree and that is fine. Do you see birds scratching their heads because they do not know?  They don’t; they get on with the business of being a bird. We have to tolerate our not knowing and when we do it becomes easier to persevere.

Tolerance has an open heart to reality. It does not have a list of demands. It is a gentle way of being in the world.

Tolerance lets us be vulnerable and in a state of wonder. When we surrender to our not knowing we let more of the world in, can learn from the rest of the universe and in doing so become wiser.

We have become deskilled and had our wings clipped by a mechanized society. We can become intolerant because we are so used to having so much available to us. If we allow that to occur, we are losing important parts of ourselves. It is unfortunate that in trying to lift ourselves up we may have created our impoverishment.

The Dark Side Of Self Sacrifice: How It Affects Your Health

Sacrifice took root in human society centuries ago in our earliest days. Self sacrifice did as well.

Our early ancestors used sacrifice to make offerings to the gods as a form of protection against forces that were unpredictable, that they did not understand and that they could not control. Consider it an early form of attempted favoritism.

Many tribes developed rituals around sacrifice that were held regularly each year. Some of the sacrifices were animal; many were human.

Sacrifice did not end with our early ancestors. Although we have developed greater control over our environment, sacrifice remains. A current example is our annual Thanksgiving celebration.

Sacrifice goes beyond holidays and other rituals. Self sacrifice extends to expectations, rules, and roles with an individual’s culture.

And some self sacrifice is good.

  1. We sacrifice our desire to drive at 100 miles per hour through city streets so that we can live to see another day.
  2. We sacrifice sleeping in during the week so that we can get to work and earn enough to make our lives comfortable.
  3. We bite our tongues when someone is annoying as a way of making our relationship work better.
  4. We do something that matters to our child even though it may not interest us to help them develop.

These are just a couple of examples of sacrifices we make that help us live better lives. It’s all good.

So what is the problem? Sacrifice can often become a habit, something that we are not intentional about that causes all sorts of problems for us including problems with our health.

Sacrifice can be very shortsighted and systemic:

  1. when we sacrifice the health of our topsoil by using pesticides and herbicides that we then consume in the food.
  2. when we add preservatives to our food to increase shelf life which when eaten becomes one of many toxins that can build-up in the body making us ill.
  3. when we work too long and exhaust ourselves, making it harder for us to function well and increasing toxic stress levels in the body
  4. when we watch television rather than get exercise we need
  5. when we do not eat, throwing our biorhythms out of balance which creates a lot of physical and emotional stress for the body
  6. when we maintain negative relationships which do not support our best and healthy selves.

Every culture has its rules and expectations about sacrifice – often unspoken. We know when we bump into them, because of the disapproval that we receive.

People become accustomed to whatever the rules are and often find ways to live with an unhealthy sacrifice rather than rock the boat and change. When working too much, many people taking pills to keep going.

Change is hard because we, and our social support systems, which we need to survive, are often resistant to it. Some of that resistance may come from fear, some may come from pride, it all comes from a perception of some form of vulnerability.

Deciding to improve your health can create resistance to change in those around you. We all have had the experience of changing our habits and getting disapproval or even undermining. Or we know someone else who has had the experience.

People who have made health sacrifices may feel resentful towards an individual who does not and your improvements may cause relationship strain. Developing compassionate ways of handling the feelings of vulnerability you encounter can make your health changes easier.

It is very important to make changes that can improve your health. It will be easier to succeed it you create ways to handle any resistance to change. And you can also graciously pass on to others the benefits of what you learn to help them achieve their health goals.

Making health changes can be difficult. The more you can keep your environment positive, the greater your success will be.

Why Self Care Is Hard


Why is self care so hard?  Whenever I see a sleeping cat, I am struck by how unconflicted they are about living each moment, about being here and their deservingness.  Receiving simply is not an issue for them.

Humans make the whole business of receiving about power.  So receiving inevitably comes with some sort of baggage about favoritism, haves, and have-nots, about identity and identity politics.  Receiving is about effort: the effort to be in the right place at the right time, the effort to make sure you know the right people, say the right thing, and wear the right clothes. It’s about the effort to anticipate the future, the effort to escape the past, the effort to be seen, the effort to be relevant, the effort to get into the right school and get the right grades, the effort to get your “look” “right”, to have enough, be enough, care enough, and so it goes on and on.

Cats luxuriate in the energy or prana of the universe.  Of course, they are at home in it, they couldn’t imagine otherwise.  It’s natural to them.  We humans, on the other hand, are always grabbing at the energy in ourselves and others like we are starving.  We have to work it rather than be in it.  We are outsiders in our own world.

Cats act as if the world is a nourishing place.  Humans seem to be in a nourishment optional place.  We can expect nourishment if we are a certain way, think certain thoughts and do certain things.  Too often we feel and act malnourished because usually, we are. When we are working so hard there is little time left for self care.

When we have to claw our way into membership in the human race, there is little energy left for simply breathing and luxuriating in our magnificent world. Personally, I think it is time to drop effort and go for joyful luxuriating like my cat knows how to do. If she is giving lessons I am ready. But before we do that I think I will simply join her on the couch for a luxurious nap.