Blog: Tendrils

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Addiction & Socioeconomic Status

Posted by on November 21, 2013 in Addiction and Recovery | 0 comments

Addiction & Socioeconomic Status

Melissa is now a contributor for Reach Out Recovery Magazine.

The news of a Florida Congressman being arrested for cocaine possession inspired her first article, the content of which is below.

While some believe addiction does not cross certain socioeconomic (SES) lines, it does. Although news reports of drug-related activity tend to involve individuals of low SES, the prevalence of addiction among high SES is comparable.

So why is it we hear much less about these cases? The simplistic answer is, individuals of high SES have more resources available to them. While these resources may be used for residential rehabs, sober companions, intensive therapy, monitoring, and accountability, the flip side is these resources may also allow the individual to continue drug use past the point where someone of lower SES would have lost his or her job and only source of legal income, physical possessions, relationships, and experienced additional natural negative consequences of his or her choices. It is these consequences that often motivate those struggling with addiction to seek help.

Unfortunately, we humans tend to be motivated more by pain-avoidance than we are by pleasure-seeking. While substance use may enhance one’s sense of wellbeing for a time, it is the dislike of what one is feeling before substance use that leads them to seek mood alteration through a chemical. That mood alteration is sought again and again until the development of substance dependence, in which one uses the substance(s) in an attempt to feel “normal” — that is, not in withdrawal. It’s a biological and psychological disease, that is either supported or discouraged by one’s social environment.

The line between support and enabling is fine and vitally important. Ultimately, the distinction comes down to whether or not the behavior increases or decreases the likelihood of substance use. Support comes with expectations  and consequences that are enforced when expectations are not met. The distinction, at times, is not easy to distinguish, especially among those emotionally  involved with the one using drugs.

A client recently shared with me that she had given her daughter cash so she would not have to prostitute in order to buy heroin. As an outsider, it could be easy for you and me to judge her reasoning as blatantly faulty. However, this mother truly believed she was helping – supporting her daughter – keeping her from dangerous situations.

I engaged the mother in playing the scenario through. She readily identified that her daughter would use the cash to buy heroin. “But,” she said, “at least she won’t be tricking.” “So you bought your daughter heroin instead,” I said. “Well, no … but … yes, I guess you could say that,” she responded. I asked if buying her daughter heroin made it more or less likely her daughter would continue to shoot heroin into her veins. The mother’s head dropped. “At least she wouldn’t be tricking.”

This conversation was not easy. Addiction is not pretty. This mother was desperate to save her daughter, whom she loves dearly, and was willing to go to almost any length to do so. Yet the manner in which she had chosen to act was making it easier for her daughter’s IV heroin use to continue.

As we continued to explore how scenarios could play out, another fear she identified was of her daughter going to jail. While no mother would outright wish such a thing for her daughter, this mother was able to see that time in jail could be exactly what her daughter needed – in order to experience the natural consequences of her choices – in hopes that they could lead her to say she’s had enough and ask for help.

Another family complained that their son needed help for a drug problem. He’d been kicked out of 3 highly respected colleges, for drug related activity. Each time, the father had used his connections and substantial donations to persuaded another college to admit his son. Still, his son failed to accept responsibility, get help, and prioritize his education – the response his father wished each of his attempts would bring. In fact, at the time of this conversation, his son was off sailing the family boat to the Caribbean.

The family believed their son had a drug problem. The son did not. Both were correct. The son’s drug use was costing him valuable opportunities, however another comparable opportunity soon came his way – without any effort of his own. His family kept paying his way, supporting his lifestyle, and making it easy for him to continue to use cocaine, marijuana, and copious amounts of scotch. Financially and emotionally, the family was picking up the tab for the son’s drug use.

The first example involved a middle-class family. The second, a family of ultra-high net worth. On the one hand, prostitution and jail may stand in stark contrast to getting kicked out of college. Yet, both this daughter and this son were on the exact same path – the path of addiction, which without recovery, eventually leads to institutionalization or death. Addiction knows no socioeconomic barriers.

Support and enabling are two different things. When we’re emotionally involved, the difference is much harder to discern. Support is available for the loved ones of those who use drugs. Al Anon is the most well known. Counseling can also be a source of support for the loved one and assistance to help them support and not enable.

Addition is not pretty. It knows no socioeconomic barriers. It is a family disease.

Help is available. Recovery  — for the one using drugs and those who love him or her – is possible.

What is guilt? (Boundary series, part 3)

Posted by on November 13, 2013 in Skills Building | 0 comments

What is guilt? (Boundary series, part 3)

[The following entry was originally posted on Melissa’s Purposeful Living blog at]

Being raised in the south, I am well acquainted with guilt. Generations of southern moms have honed its use as a parenting tool. Grandparents, as well, find it motivational. Yet too often what gets called guilt isn’t really guilt at all. Let’s explore this.

In my work with clients, even those well beyond the south, it is common to hear the statement, “I feel so guilty.” “What is guilt?” I ask. And the conversation proceeds something like the following…

 “I feel bad.”

“Okay, so guilt is a feeling that does not feel good. What do you think its purpose is?”

“Well, I’ve done something wrong.”

“So, this feeling calls your attention to something you’ve done wrong. What do you think that is meant to do?”

“It lets me know I don’t want to do that again. And it lets me know I’ve hurt someone.”

“Guilt helps you learn of choices you don’t want to repeat in the future, and it lets you know when you have caused a wound to a relationship.”

“Yeah, and I can say ‘I’m sorry.”

“Guilt also prompts you to make amends. Hmmm. Overall, this sounds fairly positive. While is does not feel good for a time, guilt actually sounds like a helpful emotion. It  helps us to learn from our behavior and nurture our relationships. So why is it that sometimes guilt feels so yucky and won’t seem to go away?”

“Sometimes I have a hard time forgiving myself.”

“Tell me more.”

“I feel bad that I can’t make everyone happy. For example, a friend has invited me to attend a BBQ with her. I’d really like to go, but my son has a birthday party earlier that afternoon, and I know this will wear me out.”

“That’s a helpful example. Let’s apply your definition of guilt to it. You definitely feel bad. So you have that part. What is it you have done wrong?”

“Well, I haven’t done anything wrong. I could go, but I know I’d just feel exhausted and resentful.”

“If you said yes to her invitation when you really mean no – not because you don’t want to go but because you simply would not have the energy – you would end up feeling resentful toward your friend, who had done nothing wrong. This sounds different from the guilt you described earlier. What do you think the purpose of this feeling is?”

“I don’t know. It just feels bad, even though I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“There’s no lesson to be learned or choice to make differently next time.”

“Yeah, but I know she’s disappointed. And I am, too.”

“You both wish it could be different, yet you’ve not harmed your friend. You have nothing to apologize for.”

“I know she won’t be mad at me.”

“Even if she were, would it change the reality?”

“No. I still wouldn’t have the energy to do both.”

“We aren’t able to do all we wish we could. So how do you get past this feeling?”

“I’ve just got to let it go.”

“Admit you’re human.”

“Yeah. I know.”

As you’ve seen through this conversation, we call guilt two very different things. They may feel the same, but they’re not. To help clients start distinguishing between the two, I suggest we call them True Guilt and False Guilt.

True Guilt is actually a helpful emotion. It lets us know when we’ve missed the mark and caused hurt to a relationship, even if the other person does not know it. True Guilt prompts us to make amends and helps us learn of choices we do not wish to repeat.

In contrast, False Guilt is not helpful at all. It makes us feel bad when we have done nothing wrong. The other person may not be happy, yet we have done nothing wrong. False Guilt can, therefore, feel paralyzing – like a straight jacket. Changing our choice is not the path to freedom. Doing so would likely cause other problems, such as resentment or anger, which we would take out on ourselves or others. Admitting we are human – imperfect, with limited resources – and accepting that reality is the only way to get the straight jacket of False Guilt off. You have to put it down.

So next time you are feeling guilty – pause and examine it. Have you done anything wrong? Is it True Guilt or False Guilt? You may be surprised at what you discover.

In both my professional and personal life, I have found we tend to experience False Guilt much more often that True Guilt. So catch it – in the act! Give yourself permission to admit the truth. You are human. Put the straight jacket down.

Common Boundary Challenges (Boundary Series, part 2)

Posted by on October 28, 2013 in Skills Building | 0 comments

Common Boundary Challenges (Boundary Series, part 2)

[The following entry was originally posted on Melissa’s Purposeful Living blog at]

Boundary. What comes to mind when you read that word? A wall? A road block? When first introduced to the concept, people often think of boundaries as barriers, cutting oneself off from relationship, or isolation.  While some boundaries are this rigid and exclusive, most more closely resemble fences with gates. The let in the good and keep out the bad.

A few years ago, the movie Yes Man was released. In it, Jim Carey played a character who said “no” to everything.  In doing so, he missed out on opportunities for fun, companionship, and advancement at work. Later on, he decided to always say “yes.” Doing so put him in unsafe and undesirable situations at times.

The  goal of boundaries is to be able to say “yes” and “no” effectively and with equal ease. “Yes” to the good. “No” to the bad. That’s where each of us has our own challenges. Read below and see which one or two boundary challenge patterns you experience the most.

Compliant: Those who tend toward compliance have poorly defined boundaries. They are like chameleons, always changing, depending on the environment.  They have difficulty saying “no” and thus tend to say “yes” to the bad. They are often motivated by fear and guilt. As a result, they often take on too many responsibilities.

Avoidant: Those who tend to be avoidant have difficulty recognizing their own needs and withdraw in hard times. They have difficulty seeking the help of others and tend to say “no” to the good. They mistake boundaries for walls.

Compliant-Avoidant: Some folks struggle with both of these issues. In essence, they have boundaries where they are not needed and lack boundaries where they are.

Controlling: Those who tend toward a control pattern disrespect the boundaries of others. They can be manipulative and aggressive. They have difficulty hearing “no.” They look for ways to motivate others to take on the responsibility that is theirs.  They lack discipline and impulse control. They often feel unloved.

Non-responsive: Those who tend toward non-responsiveness ignore the needs of others or are too absorbed in their own needs to even notice the needs of others.

While each of us has been known to do all of the above, we tend to experience some more likely than others. In what area do you most struggle? Saying “yes,” or saying “no”? Letting in the good, or keeping out the bad? Being sensitive to the needs of others, or allowing others to help you get your needs met? Which is your area for growth?

What is a Boundary? (Boundary Series, part 1)

Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Family Wealth, Skills Building | 0 comments

What is a Boundary? (Boundary Series, part 1)

[The following entry was originally posted on Melissa’s Purposeful Living blog at]

If there were only one skill I could teach, it would be boundaries. In both my professional life and personal life, I have observed that there is no more powerful skill than the ability to have, communicate, manage, and maintain healthy boundaries. This applies in our home life, personal life, work life, social life, and spiritual life.

Boundaries are the key to health. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, disappointed, frustrated, afraid, angry, resentful, depressed, anxious, or anything of the like, read on. This series on boundaries can help.

First, what is a boundary? Boundaries can be tangible or intangible. Tangible boundaries include fences, walls, property lines, and even our skin. They tell us where our ownership and responsibility begin and end. They keep in the good, such as pets, children, and organs. They keep out the bad, like thieves, rain, and viruses. Examples of intangible boundaries include words, time, and emotional distance.

Whether tangible or intangible, boundaries serve the same purposes. They help define us, so that others know who we are and aren’t.  They tell us where our responsibility and ownership end and where someone else’s begins.  They help let the good in, such as love, joy, and success, while keeping out the bad, such as pain, abuse, and fear. Boundaries serve to protect our values, feelings, beliefs, talents, and limits. Because they are individualistic, they must be communicated in order to be known.

Boundary challenges are common among families and family businesses. The reason is the multitude of roles each person plays. Dad may be  a boss and a husband. Mom may be a wife and an investor. Uncle may be a vendor, a brother, and also a friend. Cousins may be co-workers, partners, and competition for leadership.

The lines can easily become blurry. How does a father give critical job performance feedback to his son? How does an aunt tell her nephew he is not the best candidate for a job? How does a niece tell her uncle she is being treated unfairly?

My favorite analogy for this situation is the wearing of hats. Each hat defines our present role and thus shapes our behavior. Here’s a story I’ve heard…

A father calls his son into his office and puts his “Boss” hat on. He stands behind his desk and tells his son, his employee, he is not well suited for this line of work and is thus being fired. The father then puts on his “Dad” hat, sits down by his son, and says, “I heard you lost your job. How can I help?”

It’s a beautiful example of boundaries done well. The truth was spoken and handled respectfully. Critical feedback and the need for change was expressed. Relationship was valued.

Nurturing healthy boundaries is a delicate process. One only you can do. One you must do to have healthy relationships, both with others and yourself.

The next entry in the Boundary Series will be “Common Boundary Challenges.”

Breaking Through

Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

Breaking Through

If you’re going through hell, keep going. – Winston Churchill

The past year has been extremely painful. The most painful of my life. I lost a friend, who is family to me, and experienced a grief like I have never known.

As a counselor who has walked through grief of various sorts with innumerable  clients, I know that’s exactly what it takes – walking through it.

I also know it comes in waves. And I spent the last year in the undertow.

A few weeks ago, over lunch with a dear friend, she said “I have a sense you are on the verge of a breakthrough.” The word break echoed in my mind. I responded, “Indeed, I am broken.”

It’s not my nature to be sad. I’m one of those people who could  always imagine the silver lining, without being Pollyanna. The past year has been uncharted territory for me. I’ve been unable to see another side – an end to the suffering.

Yet over the past two weeks, since that lunch with my friend, I’ve begun to realize I am breaking through.  Like a seedling, breaking through the earth, I can see a glimmer of light. I can feel its warmth embrace me, as if welcoming me home.

The love, the loss, the grief, they will always remain. Nevertheless, I am breaking through. I can see a silver lining – that I can be released from the undertow, the grief can occupy a different place in my life, and that this experience can benefit my work with clients for years to come. I can break through. I will break through. I am breaking through.

If you are going through your own version of hell, remember to keep going! You will break through, too.

Considering Wiring

Posted by on July 8, 2013 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

Considering Wiring

I have been considering wiring lately. Not of the electrical sort, but of our personalities. Specifically, I’ve been wondering to what degree are we able to modify the ways in which we’re wired.

We all have a default manner through which we experience the world. Let’s call these thinking, feeling, behaving/body (I know some folks will cringe at my combining those two. I’m doing so here for simplicity.), and observing. The first three are a bent toward noticing what’s going on with you. The last – observing – is a tendency to be more aware of what is going on in one’s environment.  Input from each of these areas provides useful information. In my work with counseling clients, I help them investigate those typically outside of their awareness, in order to gather more information and thus possibly gain a better understanding.

Here’s an example. I have worked with many folks who are keenly aware of what is going on in their surroundings. They can recall in great detail all the “he said’s” and “she said’s” of a conversation. Listening to their account is like being a fly on the wall. And just like fly, I can “see” (imagine) the conversation that took place, but I have no clear idea what’s going on inside my client. All I can do is assume, guess, or ask. So I’ll ask my client such questions as, “What did you think when they said that?” “What (emotion) did you feel?” I’ll admit, I’m not as good about asking what was going on with their body at the time. Was their body relaxed or tense? Were they clenching their jaw, rolling their eyes, or kindly looking directly at the other person?

Again, while we all have a tendency to notice one of these areas more than others, each provides its own unique information. Thus, we can benefit from practicing increasing our awareness in these other areas, even if it’s after the fact.

Another example. I have worked with numerous folks for whom anger is an issue. Some have described it as being “red hot” or “explosive.” They feel like they’re going to burst and at times cannot contain the intensity. The best way to manage anger is to catch it when it’s small. A “cub” instead of a “lion.” We may start by identifying a recent situation in which they experienced intense anger.  I’ll walk them back through the events – very slowly – seeking to identify as many “links” as possible in the “chain” through which the anger developed.  I’ll ask them to identify thoughts, feelings, behaviors, as well as people present, their words and behaviors, and other contributing factors in the environment. Through this process, clients learn about their early, middle, and late warning signs, which they can use as cues that they need to disengage the anger-building process. Again, the sooner the better.

It takes intentional effort over time to develop greater awareness of the information provided through these other perspectives. It will take practice. It’s a worthy endeavor.

Celebrating Independence

Posted by on July 4, 2013 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

Celebrating Independence

As we celebrate the independence of our nation, I’m also reminded of those who are celebrating independence from addictions and destructive behavior patterns. Today, I celebrate and give thanks for their courage to leave abusive relationships, say No, that does not work for me, extend forgiveness and grace to ones who have caused them pain, decide just for today not to drink or get high, no longer procrastinate self-care via dietary changes and physical activity, risk saying “I love you” even when unsure how it will be received.

Just as men and women have and do battle for the freedoms our nation enjoys, making significant, meaningful changes in one’s own life is a battle. To those who take up this fight – I celebrate you today and every day.

The value of relationship

Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

I got a fresh reminder today of the value of relationship. An early morning email informed me that the amazing woman who has taught me horseback riding lessons for the past 5 months is leaving the barn where I ride.

It hit me hard. Tears kept stinging my eyes. As I write this, again they sting.

Riding horses has been a long-coming but only recently developed hobby. Liz has been there since day 1.

From the ground, to the saddle, to the arena, to the pasture, she has taught me so much. Answered soooo many questions! She was there every week. Even in the rain and cold.

She taught me to ride western – walk, trot, and canter. She’s been teaching me to ride English – walk, jog, trot, lots of posting, and two-points. I’ve been eager to canter again and look forward to jumping, but I have never asked “when?” Instead, I simply follow her lead, knowing she’s preparing me and will let me know when I’m ready. She challenges me, but she also ensures I am safe.

She’s passionate, skilled, dedicated, determined, patient, gives just the right amount of positive reinforcement, and knows how to make hard work fun. I am truly going to miss her. She will still be around. I know we’ll stay in touch. But this season is coming to a close.

Today’s experience has given me a fresh reminder of the value of relationship and of the honor of being a counselor and legacy consultant. It is a sacred privilege to be invited, by individuals, couples, and families, into the intimate details of their life. To teach them, challenge them, and help them be safe. Secure relationships give us a platform from which to stretch, heal, and grow. To past, present, and future clients, I say “thank you” for extending this privilege to me.

Beets and Blueberries

Posted by on June 10, 2010 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

Earlier this week, I had a snack of beets and blueberries. The blueberries came first, and then I enjoyed a few slices of beet. I felt satisfied but decided to cleanse my palate with a few blueberries. Immediately afterward, I noticed that I felt hungry again. How strange! I can’t tell you exactly why this happened, but I can you I won’t be following beets with blueberries again.

I shared this interesting observation with a friend of mine, and she suggested that “beets and blueberries” sounded like the title of one of my blogs, so as I drove home, I considered what the related message would be.

Fairly quickly, I was reminded that just as it’s important to put healthy foods into our bodies, it’s important to put healthy, life-giving thoughts into our minds.

Too often I observe clients and friends and myself entertaining negative thoughts – as if it’s no big deal.

So what, I called myself a dummy. I do it all the time.

We got stuck in traffic … it was a disaster.

Today’s going to be a long day, I can already tell.

While we are not able to stop all negative thoughts from coming into our minds, we do have a choice in how we respond to them. We can embrace them and hang out like old pals, or we can let them float on by.

Did you know that your brain responds to stimuli similarly – regardless of whether it comes through your optic nerve (i.e., from something tangible that you see) or from your imagination (i.e., something you think)???

Thoughts and mental visualizations cause physical changes in our brains. The more these are repeated, the more the experience is etched into our brains. Our brains will then work to resolve the cognitive dissonance – that is, the difference between where we are now and what we imagine or think.

For example:

where we are now = not a dummy       vs.

what we imagine or think = a dummy

Over time, our brains will work to make our thoughts become a reality.

So, our thoughts do matter. In fact, they matter very much.

What thoughts are you going to let feed your mind today?

Financial Therapy 101: Managing Money Scripts (part 1)

Posted by on June 1, 2010 in Financial Therapy, Skills Building | 0 comments

By now, I hope you have created a list your money scripts. (If not, please start with the first entries in this series … 1, 2, 3.). Perhaps you are even continuing to add to your list as you discover new ones. Great! Let’s start working on them.

Look over your list. What themes do you notice? Patterns? Repeats? The most frequent? Most annoying? Any of these could be a good place to start.

Pick one script and walk through the same restructuring process I introduced in the Taking out the Mental Trash series. Let’s give one a go together for practice …

Just for fun, we can use one of mine…

1. Give an example of a distressing thought you had during the past few days.

Context: In order to launch Vineyard Counseling, there were a lot of expenses involved. Furniture, lease, business license, insurance, supplies, and the list went on and on.  While building my client base, I worked some from home, so the idea of a laptop was appealing.

My automatic thought was “You have to spend money to make money.” (While this wasn’t necessarily a distressing thought, I did recognize that I needed to examine it, so this process is still useful.)

2. Review the list of thinking error types and identify the errors in your thoughts.

“have to” is a “should” in disguise

3. Is this thought true? What is the evidence that this thought is true?

Some times, but not always. I could not legally start the practice without certain expenses, such as a business license. I could not expect clients to find me without spending money on marketing. I would not function well without a computer, but I had a desktop at home and a desktop at the office, so a laptop was not a necessity. Conclusion: In this case, I did not have to spend money on a laptop in order to make money.

4. To what extent is this thought true (e.g., some times, occasionally, often)? Look out for words like always and never.

There was an unstated or implied “never” (as in “You can never make money without spending money.”)

5. Check for emotionally charged words, such as labels (e.g., stupid, jerk, devastating, horrible). Maintain perspective.

Nothing obvious here.

6. Realistically consider the worst case scenario – briefly. If the thought is true, how will you survive, cope, and overcome the situation?

Obviously, I could function without a laptop, as I did have a desktop.

7. Talk to yourself compassionately. Note the positive.

I can reconsider this decision later.

8. Based on your work above, create a substitute thought that is accurate, realistic, and maintains perspective.

While it would be nice to have a laptop, it is not a necessity at this time. Later, once the practice grows, I will reevaluate and may purchase a laptop at that time. (Side note: I’m happy to share that the laptop soon became a practical option, and I’ve been enjoying the investment ever since!)

Now, try one from your own experiences.

In the next entry, I’ll show you one more tool for managing your Money Scripts.

Financial Therapy 101: Money Scripts (part 2)

Posted by on April 27, 2010 in Financial Therapy, Skills Building | 0 comments

Step 1: Identify your Money Scripts

Money Scripts are the automatic thoughts we have in regards to money.

Here’s another exercise to help you “stir the pot” and continue to gather evidence as to what your relationship with money is like. (Remember: “Money” refers to all types of financial / material means.)

Exercise 3: Sentence Completion (Remember not to filter or judge; just write down what comes to mind.)

Wealthy people …

The poor are poor because…

Parents owe their children …

Financially, I deserve to …

I believe that giving …

One should never spend money for …

One should always spend money for …

Debt is …

The difference between the rich and the poor is …

Things would have been alright if I had never …

The relationship between God and money is …

The difference between love and money is …

The dumbest thing someone can do with money is …

Because I … I will never …

When I was little, I was told that money …

The wisest thing someone can do with money is …

Financial freedom is …

You can count on money to …

Never trust money to …

Being rich means …

I will always be able to …

Money should be …

It’s likely that this exercise will bring to mind other Money Scripts. Continue to write these down as they come to you. The more you know about your current relationship with money, the better equipped you’ll be to begin reshaping it into something more desirable.

Next week, we’ll begin walking through a process of examining the Scripts you’ve identified. Stay tuned!

Financial Therapy 101: Money Scripts

Posted by on April 17, 2010 in Financial Therapy, Skills Building | 0 comments

We cannot change a reality we deny exists, so if you want to enhance your relationship with money, you must first know what it presently is. In this and the next post, I’ll introduce you to simple exercises you can use to “stir the pot” and begin to gather evidence as to what your relationship with money is like. (Remember: “Money” refers to all types of financial / material means.)

Step 1: Identify your Money Scripts

Money Scripts are the automatic thoughts we have in regards to money.

Exercise 1: Brainstorming

Take out a blank sheet of paper. Read through the following list – one item at a time – and consider how each relates to money. Write down whatever pops into your mind.

Don’t filter! Don’t judge! Don’t rationalize!

The key to brainstorming is to let the thoughts flow freely and easily. There will be time later to consider what you have written down.

Give yourself 15-30 seconds with each word, then move on to the next. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer – simply write down what first comes to mind.




























If there are other words you’d like to brainstorm, go for it! Add them to your list. This exercise will help you practice noticing your thoughts.

Exercise 2: Real-time Tracking

Over the next week, keep an ongoing log of your thoughts regarding money. While you’re in a store, paying bills, considering your work, parenting children, chatting with friends, day dreaming … what are your Money Scripts? Write these down.

Remember, this isn’t a matter of “good” or “bad” – it is what it is. Each script is evidence of the experiences that have shaped your relationship with money into what it is today. They are grist for the mill of enhancing your relationship with money.

Financial Therapy 101

Posted by on April 6, 2010 in Financial Therapy | 1 comment

First, a little background ….

I started out my professional life as a CPA working in the field of wealth management. Through that work, I realized that we each have a relationship with money – and this relationship drives not only our financial choices but also our day-to-day life choices. It is like a mirror to our relationships with other people as well as “things” such as work, health, recreation, financial assets, and material possessions.

All too frequently, I observed that a client’s relationship with money robbed him/ her of their desired relationships with family or friends, of work-life balance, or of peace of mind. I wanted to refer them to someone for assistance, but could not find anyone to whom to refer. Over time, I realized that I was being called to meet this need – to help others enhance their relationships with money so that they could lead more authentic and fulfilling lives. This is the aim of Financial Therapy.

Through Financial Therapy, clients learn about their current relationship with money. Some times they learn how it became what it is, but more importantly, they develop the tools with which to redefine the relationship.

Since financial distress strongly contributes to depression, anxiety, relationship issues, and a host of other problems, developing a healthy relationship with money can enhance all areas of life – physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual. And that is why I am so passionate about Financial Therapy.

Over the next few weeks, I will be introducing you to some of the basic tools utilized in Financial Therapy. I encourage you to embrace these and let them work for you. If you find you cannot do it on your own, please let me know how I can help.

Sunny With a High of 75

Posted by on March 15, 2010 in Musings | 1 comment

There’s a song by Relient K called High of 75. It’s been a favorite of mine ever since it came out a few years ago. I was reminded of this song today as I stepped outside and felt invigorated by the beautiful blue-sky, spring-like weather day.

I like High of 75 for at least two reasons (in addition to its cheerful beat).

1) is because Spring is my absolute favorite season. For me, you just can’t beat blue skies and warm weather. 65-85 is my favorite temperature range. So this song is about my kind of day.

2) is because it speaks to the importance of hope. The chorus starts out “And now I’m sunny with a high of 75 since You took my heavy heart and made it light.”

Hope is priceless. It keeps us pressing on despite present circumstances.

There was a study of hope that involved rats. In the first part, a rat was placed in a tank of water, and the researchers measured how long he would paddle (i.e., how long before he gave up. And yes, the little guy was plucked out at that point.) In the second part, the procedure was the same except that the paddling rat could now witness one of his rat buddies getting rescued from the water in which he was paddling.

The researchers found that the rats in the second scenario paddled for a significantly longer period of time. Why, you ask? Because seeing his buddy rat getting rescued gave the little guy hope that the situation wasn’t doomed – that if he persisted, he, too, could be rescued.

Hope is priceless.

So I ask, who are your wet rats??? Who helps encourage you? Who feeds your hope?

No man is an island. We are wired for community.

If you’re in a stuck place, I encourage you to reach out for help. Reconnect with friends. Let them know what’s really going on. Put down the “Everything’s fine” mask.

If you need professional help, get it. But don’t let that substitute for the development of authentic friendships.

I once heard a pastor say that friendships are like bridges – different ones can sustain different levels of weight. It’s great to have “5-ton friendships,” but we need “10-ton” and “20-ton” friendships, too, as life can get heavy at times.

You could get hurt. It’s true. But it’s worth the risk. Who knows, you could connect with another wet rat, who could help feed your hope.

For the Love of a Sauna

Posted by on March 2, 2010 in Skills Building | 0 comments

I’ll share with you a little known fact – most of my blog entries are written in a sauna.  Yep! My husband says I’m “baking like a potato,” and I love it. It’s one of my “happy places.”

One reason is because I know it’s good for me. My tolerance for the heat has built up over time, so I no longer watch the timer. I simply relax while my body uses one of its natural mechanisms (sweating) to get rid of toxins.

(For some tips on how to get rid of mental “toxins,” see the previous blog series “Taking Out the Mental Trash.”)

Another reason I love a sauna is because it’s one of the few times during the week when I’m totally by myself in a serene environment.  As someone inclined toward introversion, I need this time to recharge. The dim, relatively quiet environment offers few distractions.

Over time, my mind has learned that this is what I do. A good workout clears my mind and slows my thoughts. Then I hop into the sauna to “bake like a potato” and write. It’s a time I look forward to.

What about you? What are your happy places? Where do you go  – on a regular basis – to recharge?

Taking Out the Mental Trash – Part 3

Posted by on February 20, 2010 in Skills Building | 0 comments

Last week I introduced you to a series of thinking errors (i.e., distorted ways of thinking). I invited you to familiarize yourself with these patterns and to begin monitoring your thoughts to see which ones you engage in the most.

This week, I’ll walk you through a process of exploring stressful thoughts to see if they are true, accurate, complete ….. There is value in working the process on paper, so please write down your responses.

The first step of the process is often the most challenging. To start, you need to identify a specific thought. Not a description of a situation. Not who said what. But instead, what exactly was going through your mind. If a court reporter could see what was going on between your ears, what would they note down. Don’t worry, this can get easier with practice.

1. Give an example of a distressing thought you had during the past few days.

2. Review the list of thinking error types and identify the errors in your thoughts.

3. Is this thought true? What is the evidence that this thought is true?

4. To what extent is this thought true (e.g., some times, occasionally, often)? Look out for words like always and never.

5. Check for emotionally charged words, such as labels (e.g., stupid, jerk, devastating, horrible). Maintain perspective.

6. Realistically consider the worst case scenario – briefly. If the thought is true, how will you survive, cope, and overcome the situation?

7. Talk to yourself compassionately. Note the positive.

8. Based on your work above, create a substitute thought that is accurate, realistic, and maintains perspective.

Let’s go through an example together …

1. Give an example of a distressing thought you had during the past few days.

(Situation: Ed, the superbly wonderful program administrator I had worked with for years, announced his resignation.)

My reaction – Automatic / first thoughts: I don’t want to work here without him. This stinks. No one will ever be as good as him. I don’t want to work with anyone else. (And the mental temper-tantrum went on…)

2. Review the list of thinking error types and identify the errors in your thoughts.

The following thinking errors were contained in these thoughts:

All or nothing thinking: No one else could ever be good enough.

Filtering: I was not letting myself consider that something good could come from the situation – for him or for me.

Jumping to conclusions: I assumed since no other manager had even done such a good job that no one else ever would again. I also assumed that I could / would not adjust well to another manager.

Catastrophizing: My skillful friend would no longer be my manager. We were losing a real treasure. It was all downhill from there.

Emotional reasoning: I was sad and surprised. This greatly shaped my initial reaction (thoughts).

Should: While not explicit in the thoughts listed above, at a deeper level, my thoughts likely contained should – such as “He should stay.” or “I should leave, too.”

Labeling: I said “this stinks” as if that one word could sum up the entire situation.

Personalization: My initial reaction was all about me. It did not consider anyone else.

Blaming: Again, while not explicit in the thoughts above, there could have been another thought that blamed my friend / manager for the sadness I felt.

3. Is this thought true? What is the evidence that this thought is true?

No. I could not assume to know what it would be like to work with a different manager or how that manager’s performance would be.

4. To what extent is this thought true (e.g., some times, occasionally, often)? Look out for words like always and never.

No one … ever …

5. Check for emotionally charged words, such as labels (e.g., stupid, jerk, devastating, horrible). Maintain perspective.


6. Realistically consider the worst case scenario – briefly. If the thought is true, how will you survive, cope, and overcome the situation?

I can survive and learn to work with a different manager. The world has not ended.

7. Talk to yourself compassionately. Note the positive.

I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work with this manager, and I am very happy that he will be doing more of the type of work he most enjoys.

8. Based on your work above, create a substitute thought that is accurate, realistic, and maintains perspective.

After I got past the initial shock and got to thinking more clearly – this is what I thought:

I am sad to hear this news. I was not expecting it. It has been an enormous blessing to work with Ed, and I will miss him. While the next manager may not be as much of a delight, I will make the best of it. I work with a great group of people, and we will get through this together.  I am excited that Ed will be doing the work he most enjoys. He is so gifted in that area. I will miss him but wish him the very best and will look forward to staying in touch.

Over time, as you practice this process, you can learn to do this in real-time. That’s when the greatest benefits come in. And, as you repeatedly practice actively managing your thoughts, the nature of your thoughts will likely change, so that your automatic thoughts contain fewer distortions or errors.

Taking out the Mental Trash – part 2

Posted by on February 13, 2010 in Skills Building | 0 comments

In my last blog entry, I invited you on a journey of taking out the “mental trash” – messages that clog our minds, burden our hearts, quash our spirits, and interfere with our ability to lead an authentic life. I suggested you start keeping  a log of these distressing thoughts. This week I’m introducing you to a system for identifying errors (i.e., distorted ways of thinking) in those thoughts.

Below are some of the most common categories of thinking errors . Don’t be alarmed when you realize “I do all of these!” We all do. As  you read through the list, think of your own examples – and see which are your most frequent offenders.

All or nothing thinking: You think of things in terms of black or white terms.

It’s my way or the highway.

You’re a success or a failure.

Blaming: You attribute your feelings and/or situation to someone or something else.

It’s your fault I’m angry.

I can’t have a good time if you aren’t with me.

They didn’t give me a choice.

Catastrophizing or minimizing: You grossly overestimate or underestimate the impact of a situation.

I really thought that he was the one; I guess I’ll die an old maid.

I didn’t hurt anyone on my way home; I told you I can hold my liquor.

Emotional reasoning: You allow your feelings to determine your thoughts.

I pushed her buttons because I felt like arguing.

I’m too (emotionally) tired to care anymore.

If I’m having  a bad day, I’ll see to it that everyone’s having a bad day.

Filtering: You focus on certain aspects, to the exclusion of others.

A performance review praises your leadership skills and is critical of your documentation. You disregard the commendations and dwell on the criticism.

Jumping to conclusions: You assume the worst.

A friend does not call you on your birthday. You conclude she must be mad at you.

Labeling: You call yourself and/or others such things as “lazy,” “ignorant,” or “stupid.”

I can’t believe I said that; how could I be so stupid?!

He is a jerk.

Overgeneralization: Because something seems negative, you assume things will always go wrong.

A friend betrays your trust and you conclude that no one can be trusted.

Personalization: You take personally something that may have little or nothing to do with you.

You hear co-workers snickering and assume they are laughing at you.

Should: You declare that what is should not be.

That should not have happened.

You should have known what I meant.

I should be able to do this.

Familiarize yourself with the thinking error types and begin training yourself to realize when you are engaging in distorted ways of thinking. In the next post, I’ll walk you through a process of changing your thoughts.

Taking Out the “Mental Trash” – It’s Better Than a New Knee

Posted by on January 24, 2010 in Financial Therapy, Musings | 0 comments

See if you can top this … My Dad got a new knee for Christmas.

The old one had been bothering him for years. For several years, over-the-counter meds and strengthening exercises helped and enabled him to delay surgery. Then he tried injections of a lubricant gel that is derived from chicken combs. And this, too, provided some relief and delay. But eventually, he could no longer postpone the inevitable. It was time for a knee upgrade – to “Knee 2.0.” Knee 2.0 is a stainless steel replacement that will, after rehabilitation, allow him to walk in comfort for decades to come.

I saw my Dad a few weeks ago, just after the 28 post-operative staples were removed. He was walking with the assistance of one crutch, yet there was a gleam in his eye that said the pain of the process was worth it, and he eagerly anticipates the renewed sense of freedom he will have thanks to the knee pain being vanquished.

This tangible truth is mirrored in the intangible world. Sometimes we carry thought patterns with us long after they have exceeded their useful life.

Once upon a time, they may have worked for us. They may have even helped us survive. But in our present circumstances, they are no longer necessary or desirable.

Let me start with a simplistic example. “Don’t talk to strangers.” Did you hear that one as a child? Indeed, at certain points in life, such directives may have kept us safe. But as an adult, do you still let that shape your daily interactions? Probably not. So why is it that other messages seem to stick, even though they’re just as out-dated?

How about this one – “You will never amount to anything.”

Even as we transition into adulthood, gain more influence over our world and our choices, some messages stay ingrained in us. So much so, that we never stop to question if they are true, accurate, or applicable. They can be like white-noise – stealthfully shaping our day-to-day decisions without even registering at a conscious level.

Sometimes we can get by for a time – despite their presence. But how much freer might we live if we were able to discard these worn-out lies for something more suiting – something true and life-giving?

Just like my Dad’s knee surgery, this is a process, and it may involve pain. But in the end, you can be set free.

The first step is to become aware of your inner dialogue. For some, these thoughts are like Old Faithful. When we get tired, stressed, angry, or lonely, we know what’s going to pop up. Others aren’t as obvious. So become an investigator. When you feel dis-ease whirling around inside of you – take a seat and observe your thoughts. Listen for old worn out messages and write them down.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll walk you through the process of challenging distorted, worn-out, painful thoughts and lies. I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

Financial Empowerment Retreat for Women

Posted by on January 16, 2010 in Financial Planning, Financial Therapy | 0 comments

Happy New Year!

We all know that 2009 was a financially challenging year. As with all challenges, some good has resulted from the trial. I’ve noticed that more people are now motivated to get a handle on their personal finances, to make wiser decisions, and to choose options that are in line with their values and priorities.

Paul Lemon, CPA/PFS, CFP(R) and I are teaming up to offer an amazingly priced Financial Empowerment Retreat for Women in Durango, Colorado Feb. 4 – 7. ($395, which includes accommodations and meals!) It’s our way of helping folks learn how to better manage their lives by managing their finances. We kept the cost low so that those who want to attend can afford to attend.

We’ll cover the practical how-to’s of personal finance and explore and enhance our relationships with money – so that we not only know what to do, but are also equipped to be able to do it.

Please go to to learn more and pass this along to others who could benefit from this exciting opportunity.

Activate Your Christmas Muscle

Posted by on December 12, 2009 in Musings, Readings | 0 comments

Last night, while I was brushing my teeth, a few thoughts that had been spinning around independently in my head bumped into each other, and I had a point of clarity. Let me elaborate …

Thought 1: I’ve recently been reading The Secret Language of Money and Your Money & Your Brain. Each book references research, which found the anticipation of a reward can be more satisfying than receipt of the reward itself. The reason is because once the reward is attained, the chemical process of anticipation is extinguished.

Thought 2: Since my husband, Robbie, has been out of work since February, and I’ve been building up a new private practice while preparing to launch a second company next year, this year’s Christmas budget has been paired back. So that we can continue to give to others, we decided to pass on exchanging gifts ourselves. Robbie asked for reassurance that I would not be disappointed. I assured him that I would not be disappointed but admitted that I may miss having a surprise to enjoy. Inwardly, I was saddened by the thought that I could possibly be disappointed at not receiving something material (which I could definitely live without) to mark the celebration of the day mankind received the one gift it cannot live without – a Savior.

Thought 3: Yesterday I met with a personal trainer to mix up a lower body resistance training regimen, which had become boring. For grins and giggles, he took me through a new core workout first, and then we went through a lower body routine. It included only two new exercises, but these would target a wider range of muscles. During the first new exercise, I was a bit wobbly, so Forrest pulled me aside for an exercise that would activate a specific glute muscle. Sure enough, after that, my form was better. It was amazing.

So last night as I was brushing my teeth, I was experiencing a precursor to the pain I knew I’d feel today, from targeting muscles my previous routine had let rest. As I pondered what insight this lesson in the physical realm could shed on the intangible spiritual realm of life, the above three thoughts collided.

If I want my experience of Christmas to reflect the joy of the gift of Jesus and the joy of giving to others – without being diminished by the distraction of materialism – I need to keep my “Christmas muscle” activated.

How can I (we!) do that? To start, I can let my daily quiet time keep directing me back to the true meaning of Christmas. I can stop adding busyness to my schedule, so that there’s more time to relax, reflect, and enjoy. I can beef up my attitude of gratitude through active reflection on the blessings constantly poured down upon me, and by telling and showing others that they are a blessing to me. I can continue to seek ways to simplify my daily life so that its maintenance is less of a distraction. I can sit and gaze at the Christmas tree, cuddle up to Robbie, and enjoy the soothing purr of kitties on our laps. I can finish setting up our nativity collection – beautiful, visual reminders, of the true gift of Christmas, which never fades or fails – Jesus Christ.

Indeed, each time I sit or stand today, I know that something is different. The simple changes made to my exercise routine have already begun to create a new experience among my muscles.  And I’m encouraged that with a little intentional tweaking – to continually activate my Christmas muscle – this year and this Christmas will continue to be one of the best yet.

What will you do to activate your Christmas muscle?

Questioning Normal on a Silent Night

Posted by on December 6, 2009 in Musings | 1 comment

My husband and I recently started a media fast. No radio or MP3… No TV or movies… No internet surfing… No newspaper or magazines… You get the picture.

Since music is one of my favorite means of mood-alteration, I knew this part would be challenging. At first, my body seemed to revolt against the quiet in my car. Reflexively, time after time, my hand would rise to turn on some tunes. Even for an introvert like me, it was strange how foreign quietness had become.

TV, newspaper, and web media have not been hard to avoid. I’m not a big fan of TV. We don’t even have cable. And I regularly abstain from the (bad) news in order to promote my mental health.

Today I got a “freebie” at church – worship music – awesome! Then we ran into Starbucks. When we got back into the car, the silence was almost deafening. When did noise and clatter become the norm?

We also went to Costco, and my eyes were drawn to the mesmerizing flicker of the TV screens as we walked in. (Product placement – yes.) At the grocery store, as I awaited check out, I was bombarded by magazines hyping the trials and tribulations of the rich and famous. When did it become normal to be accosted by so much (needless) information?

As I write this, our cat Rutledge is sleeping on my lap; it’s a priceless moment. I hear the gentle breeze of the heat blowing through the house. And I hear my husband thoughtfully laying down pieces to the puzzle we cracked open a few days into the fast.

While giving up Christmas tunes has been a sacrifice, I wouldn’t trade this experience of a media fast for a dozen renditions of O Holy Night. The gift of quiet has been returned to us, and this silent night has caused me to wonder what our new normal will be.

Buyer Beware

Posted by on November 27, 2009 in Musings | 0 comments

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, the average American plans to spend $682.74 on holiday-related shopping this year. If the recent past is any indication, the majority will put these purchases on credit cards, and almost half will take up to six months to pay them off.

To help keep this a season to be jolly and not a season for folly, before you do any shopping, do this …

Prepare a Spending Plan. Individually list each expense (such as “Gift for Mom” or “Decorations”) and assign each a dollar limit.

Track every dollar spent and be accountable to your Spending Plan.

Use a cash envelope system to help you stick to your Spending Plan.

Leave credit cards at home.

Research purchases in advance.

Shop only with an Accountability Partner (not a Shopping Buddy).

If you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired – HALT! These can trigger us to overspend or purchase impulsively.

(For more holiday tips, see Consider This.)

The Secret Language of Money

Posted by on November 13, 2009 in Financial Therapy, Readings | 0 comments

I recently began reading “The Secret Language of Money” by Dr. David Krueger, a former practitioner and teacher of psychiatry and psychoanalysis who is now CEO of MentorPath, an executive coaching practice. David’s book draws from his experiences in more than three decades of practice and an expanding field of research. He has a gift with words and crafts powerful one liners, which artfully encapsulate the message and powerfully drive it home. Here are some of my favorites so far …

“If money were about math, none of us would be carrying any debt.”

“Money is a magnifier. Like adversity, it reveals and exaggerates character. … But it doesn’t simply magnify who we are; it also amplifies who we hope to be, fear we might have become, or regret that we may never be. It gives form to our fantasies and shape to our compulsions. We don’t simply earn, save, and spend money: we woo it, flirt with it, crave it and scorn it, punish and reward ourselves with it.”

“It is not wealth and possessions or even the chase after these that creates problems in our lives; it is when we lose ourselves in the chase. And when do we lose ourselves? When we imbue money with meaning it doesn’t really have, and then keep that meaning a secret even from ourselves – thus holding ourselves hostage to our own money story without even realizing we were the ones who made it up in the first place.”

… and this covers only the Introduction to the book! Stay tuned as I continue to share gems discovered in “The Secret Language of Money.”

Like A Gardener and Her Tools

Posted by on November 1, 2009 in Musings | 0 comments

An online network to which I belong has recently been discussing how to define financial health. In thinking about how I’d define financial health, I considered that it’s a measure of our relationship with money, and I wondered what metaphor I’d use to describe my relationship with money.

It occurred to me that I’d like my relationship with money to be like that of a gardener and her tools.

I like this metaphor, because the tools are helpful, but they aren’t necessary. Actually, the gardener isn’t even necessary. There are beautiful natural fields, forest, and gardens all around the world that no human helped create. Seeds are spread by wind, animals, and water. The earth is watered by rain and snow. The sun rises and sets, even with no humans around. And the beauty is amazing.

Yet, still, I have the option to participate. To gather or purchase seeds or seedlings. To plant them, tend them, and watch them grow. Sometimes I use a spade, but in its absence I could get by with my hands. I supplement the rains with a sprinkler or watering can, but I could let them fend for themselves; let only the drought tolerant survive. I snip off dead flower heads, but I could leave the dried heads for the birds to dine on or to fall to the ground and become compost.

I like how a gardener’s tools compliment her work, but they aren’t necessary for it. They can make a project quicker or less of a chore, but they themselves aren’t a thing of beauty. They can accentuate and promote the wonder that’s inherently there and provide inspiration and enjoyment for others and myself, but they can’t make the seed sprout forth new growth. They can’t make a sunflower rise from an acorn. They can’t stop a maple from dropping its leaves in the fall. They can, however, help me to engage and celebrate the life that surrounds me. They let me co-create with the Creator.

How about you? What metaphor would you like to be descriptive of your relationship with money?

What’s In A Name?

Posted by on October 26, 2009 in Family Wealth, Musings | 0 comments

I recently heard on the radio a segment about the names of animal groups. A journey of giraffes. A leap of leopards. A charm of hummingbirds. I wondered how people came up with these names and who got to name them. How cool would that be to get to name a group of animals?!?!

So why is it that the names of trusts tend to be chosen by the attorney – without any input from the client  – and based on the applicable tax acronym or technique?

Why is it that the purposes, hopes, and dreams, which likely led to the trust’s creation, are mentioned nowhere in the legal document – even though the “Four Corners Rule” limits the interpretation of trust provisions to the information included in the trust document and to the exclusion of external factors? What a missed opportunity (to say the least).

I am grateful to John A. Warnick, an estate attorney, for his pioneering effort to help other estate attorneys move beyond boiler-plate legal documents and their inherent limitations – and to create a Purposeful TrustTM.

One small but significant part of a Purposeful TrustTM is the use of a meaningful name. John A. estimates the average beneficiary of a dynasty trust will receive close to 300 quarterly trust statements during his or her adult life. Each of these statements will reference the trust by name, which creates 300 opportunities to remind the beneficiary of the (non-financial) purpose of the trust.

Simple? Yes. Powerful? Yes!

Below are two examples of purposefully named trusts – and the explanation, which would be included at the beginning of the trust document. The first is an example provided at the Master’s Level Intensive and copyrighted by John A. The second is one that I wrote, during the Intensive, for a trust for which my husband and I have provided.

Read these and consider the power of a name…

Smith + Jones Legacy Trust

We have chosen the surnames of both my wife and myself and the word “Legacy” to frame the name of this trust. Each surname should remind the beneficiaries of the powerful heritage they have received from both sides of our family. The “+” between the two surnames emphasizes the synergy we feel our family generates because these two family lines came together with our marriage. The word “Legacy” with a capital “L” signifies something deeper than the legal definition of legacy. A legacy in the eyes of the law is money or property bequeathed to another. To us Legacy not only signifies the wealth transmission side of this trust instrument but it also represents the values that have come to us from previous generations. We hope the name of this trust will cause the beneficiaries to not only appreciate the value passing on to them but that they will always regard the values which were in large part responsible for our family’s financial success as a “Legacy” which they should build on for those who follow them.

Sweet Babes Trust

We have chosen Sweet Babes to frame the name of this trust. It symbolizes that our “pets” were always considered our kids and an integral part of our family. Like many other families, our kids were a part of our greatest pride and joy, and sharing their lives was one of the greatest blessings granted us by God. Accordingly, we wish to provide for all their wants and needs for the rest of their precious lives.

What message would you want to live on through a trust you create?

Consider This

Posted by on October 20, 2009 in Musings, Readings | 0 comments

As difficult as it is to believe, the busiest shopping day of the year is just over one month away, and Christmas is barely two months off. So, even though my closet is still filled with Capri’s and sleeveless blouses, my thoughts have begun to turn toward the Christmas season.

Apparently, I’m not the only one, because just today the National Retail Federation released the results of their 2009 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey.

Consider this … According to the 2009 ARF Survey, the average American plans to spend $682.74 on holiday-related shopping this year. If the recent past is any indication, the majority will put these purchases on credit cards, and almost half will take up to six months to pay them off.

Consider this … Instead of the glitz and glam of shopping and gifting, what if this year was more about connecting in new ways with those we love?

Consider this …

If you could not simply buy a present, how else could you show you care?

How might you show love and thoughtfulness without giving a typical gift?

What new tradition might you start – instead of a gift exchange?

In what way might you volunteer together – to give back and support your community?

How might you honor those you love through a gift to those less fortunate – locally and / or globally? [One of my favorites is Heifer International.]

Consider this … How might this year be the year you begin to make more of a difference – for yourself, your loved ones, and your community?


Posted by on October 3, 2009 in Financial Planning, Readings | 0 comments

I recently began reading Your Money & Your Brain: How the New Science of Neuroeconomics Can Help Make You Rich by Jason Zweig. For warm-ups, he gives examples of how knowing better doesn’t mean we’ll do better and runs down some basic lessons we’ve learned as the field of neuroeconomics has progressed.

My favorite “case study” was that of Harry M. Markowitz, the “father” of Modern Portfolio Theory and winner of a Nobel Prize in economics (1990), who was unable to apply the mathematical breakthrough he’d helped discover to his own investment portfolio. Instead, in the 1950’s, he chose to invest 50% of his retirement savings in stocks and the other 50% in bonds. Markowitz said, “I should have computed the historical co-variances of the asset classes and drawn an efficient frontier. Instead, I visualized my grief if the stock market went way up and I wasn’t in it – or if it went way down and I was completely in it. My intention was to minimize my future regret.”

Markowitz’s sentiment was echoed by another Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman (the first psychologist to win a Nobel Prize in economics), who said, “Financial decision-making is not necessarily about money. It’s also about intangible motives like avoiding regret or achieving pride.”

So what does the research show? So far, here is some of what we’ve learned through the study of neuroeconomics:

  • Monetary gains and losses create a biological change, which can profoundly affect the body and the brain.
  • The neural activity of someone making money on their investments is indistinguishable from that of someone high on cocaine or morphine.
  • After a stimulus, such as an uptick in the price of a stock, is repeated twice, the brain “automatically, unconsciously, and uncontrollably” expects a third recurrence.
  • Once someone presumes that investment returns are predictable, their brain will respond in alarm when that presumed pattern is broken.
  • Financial losses and mortal danger are processed in the same areas of the brain.
  • “Anticipating a gain, and actually receiving it, are expressed in entirely different ways in the brain, helping to explain why ‘money does not buy happiness’.”
  • “Expecting both good and bad events is often more intense than experiencing them.”

Wealth Transfer – Planning for Success

Posted by on September 27, 2009 in Family Wealth, Financial Planning, Readings | 0 comments

Over the next 50 years, 50-100 trillion dollars will be transferred to successive generations. Approximately 80% of all transfers will fail by the 3rd generation.

According to a study in Williams and Preisser’s “Preparing Heirs” only 15% of estate / wealth transition failures were due to the what’s (i.e., legal and technical issues). The remaining 85% were result of the how’s (i.e., breakdowns of communication and trust, lack of family developed missions, and inadequate preparation of heirs). In fact, open communication and beneficiary preparation were the two factors that distinguished the successful 30% from the failed 70%.

Under the traditional estate planning paradigm, the primary considerations are tax minimization, asset protection, and probate avoidance. Estate documents are drafted in such a manner that if the first and the last pages were removed, no one could tell to whom they belong. Trust names most often reflect the tax purpose and the grantor’s surname. Yet none of these speak to the above determinants of success: communication and preparation.

And what about the family’s priceless intangibles: their human and intellectual assets? How are these planned for in traditional estate planning? Simple answer: They’re not.

Fortunately, there are other options.

One such option is the Purposeful TrustTM, created by John A. Warnick and Scott Farnsworth.

The following is from their How to Build a Purposeful Trust Practice brochure.

It Starts with a Purposeful Conversation™

Given an opportunity, most clients are interested in deeper conversations around the impact of their wealth on their children, grandchildren, and favorite causes. They want to discus the “How much is enough?” and “How much is too much?” questions. They want to know how to pass on more than money. They want their wealth to be a blessing to those they love and not a crip­pling handicap.

Purposeful Conversations provide a simple, enjoyable, and gratifying process for helping clients think deeply about the significant issues underlying their most important estate planning deci­sions. From their answers, we can discern the real purposes behind their planning and we can glean the words to express their purposes, hopes, and dreams to trustees and beneficiaries. The clients’ own words and stories are the best source for the name of the trust, for the lessons and wisdom that should inform trust decision, and for the bedrock principles that should guide the trust through uncharted waters. With their words and their stories in hand, we’re prepared to start creating Purposeful Trusts.

The Seven Secrets of Purposeful Trust Planning

We have discovered the seven keys that open the door to a beautiful and meaningful new world of planning for us and our clients.

Secret #1: Focus—The estate planning process is robust and engaging when it focuses primarily on the clients’ deepest hopes, dreams, and purposes.

Secret #2: Purpose—The trust itself is infused with life and energy when the clients’ own words are used to express the rich human purposes of the trust.

Secret # 3: Name—The clients’ name for the trust can be a succinct and powerful expression of their fondest hopes and dreams for the trust and its beneficiaries.

Secret #4: Guidance—Directions based on the clients’ wisdom and life-lessons and written in the clients’ own words can guide the trust to achieve its grandest purposes.

Secret #5: Heirlooms—When a gift of tangible personal property includes the cli­ents’ story and the item’s background, it turns an object into a priceless treasure.

Secret #6: Gratitude—Expressions of appreciation and an attitude of gratitude in givers and receivers can turn transfers into gifts and financial riches into true wealth.

Secret #7: Principles—Statements of the clients’ guiding bedrock principles can provide pole star and compass in navigating the trust through an unpredictable future.

How might you begin to capture The Purpose of your clients’ estate plans?

An Attitude of Gratitude

Posted by on September 14, 2009 in Family Wealth, Musings | 0 comments

By the time this posts, I’ll be in Colorado for Purposeful PlanningTM’s Masters Level Intensive Training Program. The recommendation to attend came out of a phone conversation with Courtney Pullen, a well-known and well-respected family wealth counselor. I had contacted Courtney to see how he came to develop this specialty, and to see how I, too, might continue the process of utilizing the skills and experiences of my first career, in wealth management, in my second career as a licensed professional counselor. Courtney recommended the Intensive as the best next step in this process.

His description of the program deeply resonated with my passions for philanthropy, legacy, and authentic living. But since I launched my private practice earlier this year, its training budget is not yet in line with the cost of traveling to and attending such a program.

A firm believer in “it never hurts to ask,” I inquired of Courtney if scholarships were available. He was not sure but knew Barb Culver could answer this question for me.

In a matter of days, I got the glorious news that the four faculty members had come together and offered to sponsor my attendance, so that the majority of my tuition would be covered.

I cannot express how humbling the experience was. To have 4 individuals, who have never met me – and only one which has ever spoken to me – offer such a generous gift so that I could take advantage of such a wonderful and timely opportunity, is amazing. I am filled with gratitude. That is why, in the most public way I know how, I want to offer my most sincere thanks to the Purposeful PlanningTM Faculty:

Barbara A. Culver, CFP, CLU, ChFC, AEP

Terry Hunt, EdD

Courtney Pullen, MA, LPC

John A. Warnick, Esq.

Hey Lazarus, What About Finances?

Posted by on September 7, 2009 in Financial Therapy | 0 comments

In graduate school (the second time – getting my Masters in Psychology), I was introduced to concept of the BASIC ID — Lazarus’ model for case conceptualization, which assesses behavior, affect, sensation, imagery, cognition, interpersonal relationships, and the use of drugs.

After a review, the professor asked if anyone could identify an area that Lazarus had left out. Well, as a Certified Public Accountant who had only recently learned that affect is not only a verb, I was in information-absorption mode. A few days later, when I had some time to reflect on my professor’s question, I realized that two important areas had indeed been left out. The BASIC ID model did not assess the matter of ones finances or spirituality. The BASIC ID needed to be the BASIC FIDS.

The spiritual aspect I will table for now, as gratefully, our field and many others are gaining a greater appreciation of the role of spirituality in recovery and healing. But what about finances? Money has been called “the last taboo,” and most counselors are more comfortable assessing a client’s sex life than they are their client’s financial situation. As a result, issues such as compulsive shopping, financial infidelity, compensatory spending, etc. are often missed.

One of the reasons some counselors do not assess a client’s financial health is a lack of comfort with financial matters. Another barrier is their comfort in asking such questions of their clients. Is it any of my business? How might the client respond? Do I have a right to inquire of such things? What do I do if I do identify a problem area?

All of these are valid questions, which counselors could benefit from exploring – and they’ll likely be commented on in future posts. But for now – for those wanting to start the process of assessing financial health – as a dimension of overall health – here are three basic inquiries with which you may begin…

How have your finances been impacted by _____ (the presenting problem)? And vice versa?

To what extent is your financial status a source of stress?

How would you describe your relationship with money? (or What role does money play in your life?)

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