Tag Archives: learning

The need to understand cause and effect

Dr. Ken Larsen

When I entered Dental School in 1961 the dental profession was not able to meet the needs of our population.  Dental disease (tooth decay and gum disease) were progressing more rapidly than the ability of the profession to repair the damage.

The lightbulb came on as many of us started to think about, talk about and work toward understanding the causes of dental disease so we could get ahead of the problem by preventing the disease.  How many dentists does it take to treat a disease that has been prevented?

As a profession, we shifted our focus from chasing the effects of disease, to understanding and dealing with the causes.

People still suffered from dental disease, but more and more people began to understand that disease was optional, not inevitable. 

cause-effectThe key, of course, was to understand and control the causes of the disease.  This required new learning and changing behavior.

As you may have noticed, changing habitual behavior patterns is not easy.  Our efforts have largely paid off for those of our patients who accept their responsibility to learn to control the causes of their disease.

You may wonder why I’m talking about dental health in a blog about mental health.

Many of us are undergoing the shift from chasing mental illness to promoting mental health.  This involves working to understand what causes the loss of mental health and learning to change our behavior to follow more healthy patterns of living.

Some are telling us that changes in brain chemistry are what causes mental illness.  Some are looking more at the kinds of things we each can do to stay healthy, including learning and practicing more effective ways to live, love, and relate to one another. The research for the causes of mental diseases and illnesses continues.

However, the good news is that there is no need to wait in order to take immediate action and receive an immediate pay off for your personal Mental Health & Happiness.

Just like with your dental health, if you will accept personal responsibilities NOW by meeting your genetic needs for love, power, fun, freedom and safety, you will experience an immediate improvement in your Mental Health & Happiness.

Happily, there are now lots of ideas and suggestions to this end. Please read any and all of our blogs. Sign up and start receiving Mental Health & Happiness challenges for support and help. And there is even more readily available now on the world wide web.


Who built the world you live in?

Dr. Ken Larsen

We live in a world of our perceptions.  Our encounter with the real world outside of ourselves is filtered through our total knowledge, our values, our experience and what we have learned.  All these things are held in memory and shape how we relate to the real world as we journey through life.  Our mental health and happiness are largely dependent on how effectively our perceptions enable us to meet our needs.

Our perceptions are formed by what we learn about life and our place in it.  I’m going to draw a quick comparison between two ways that we learn.

Indoctrination is one way we learn.  The definition I am using for “indoctrination” is “To teach someone to fully accept the ideas, opinions and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions and beliefs.”  When we learn by indoctrination our world is interpreted for us by some external source.  We are enjoined to conform to this externally interpreted world and to avoid exploring alternative ways of thinking, often going so far as to threaten sanctions for “stepping out of line.” One such sanction was the practice in the middle ages to burn those whose beliefs and behaviors were inconsistent with the predominant “doctrine”.


Another way we learn is by education.  I am going to define education as an “enlightening experience.”  The way I see it is that education enables us to interpret our world for ourselves; learning, evaluating and comparing what we experience in the real world with our own system of values and beliefs.  Education is a quest for truth and applying that truth to knowing ourselves and knowing others and to apply that knowledge to meeting our needs and living together in harmony with others.  My personal experience of “education” is that it is a process that works best when linked in some way to a respected someone older and wiser.  Someone whose values, beliefs and world view have demonstrated a nobility shaped by growing in truth, goodness and beauty.  For me, and for many of us, Dr. Glasser has been that older and wiser influence in our education.

It seems to me that we are in a struggle between indoctrination and education in the ways we think and live our lives in today’s world.   Can you identify places in your life where your experience of indoctrination (political, religious, philosophical) are in conflict with what you have learned through your “enlightening experience” of education?    Does this conflict affect your mental health and happiness?  How do you resolve this conflict?       



How to avoid being misunderstood in a cross cultural setting…

By Dr. Ken Larsen

Face it.   You can’t do it.  Being misunderstood cannot be avoided.  Because of our unfamiliarity with people with different cultural backgrounds, we will inadvertently say or do something that could be perceived as being offensive.  The key to letting this become a problem is to use any of the seven deadly habits as a reaction to the unintended gaffe.  Conversely, the key to overcoming what might be considered an affront is to simply choose not to be offended and practice the seven connecting habits instead.

I recently saw a bit of wisdom posted on Facebook.  It was a poster with the caption:  “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned  it.”


Social skills are learned behavior.  If we are fortunate, we have been raised in a loving situation where we are able to learn those skills.  Even if we are well adapted to our own culture, we probably are a bit inept in an unfamiliar cultural situation.  This presents a challenge to all of us on this planet.  We want to be connected.  It is one of our basic needs.  If we continue to bounce off one another because of some comment or behavior that is foreign to us, we will continue on the path that has perpetuated much of our separateness and that often leads to alienation and hostility.

The mental health and happiness of all of us is enhanced the more we find ways to connect and enjoy each other, even if we are unfamiliar to one another.  Let’s just work on choosing not to hide behind cultural barriers and choose instead to reach out with care and a willingness to learn.

My experience in connecting across cultures has been enhanced by Facebook and Skype.  I’ve found wonderful ways to learn from and share with people literally around the world.  I am in Minnesota in the US.  I enjoy friendships with wonderful people in Malaysia, India, Canada , Russia, South Africa, Columbia, Australia, New Zealand,  Serbia, Ireland, UK, Sweden, even California J.  Each exchange enriches me by giving me a glimpse of the world through eyes that see things that I will never see.  My hope is that barriers will come down as we learn that we have more in common with one another than we have barriers to divide us.

Seven Connecting Habits Seven Deadly Habits
1. Supporting 1. Criticizing
2. Encouraging 2. Blaming
3. Listening 3. Complaining
4. Accepting 4. Nagging
5. Trusting 5. Threatening
6. Respecting 6. Punishing
7. Negotiating differences 7. Bribing, rewarding to control


Finding Your Passion

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls. — Joseph Campbell

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. —  Harriet Tubman

Ever read these kinds of quotes before? Does it help you feel inspired, fired up and ready to go out into the world and take your next step to conquer your fears and realize your daydream2dream? Or do you feel annoyed and irritated instead? Do you wonder what your dreams and passions are? How are you supposed to follow your bliss when you don’t even know what that is?

Here are a couple of stories that just might help improve your Mental Health & Happiness as you consider or reconsider your bliss, passion and dreams.

Once upon a time I started a college program where I was able to create my own course of study. I knew I needed the program to be interdisciplinary. And I knew some of the academic disciplines I was already interested in. But what else?

Following the direction of a well seasoned college professor, I gathered together all of my purchased books as well as borrowed books and articles (from the library and friends). I discovered something amazing! There, right before my eyes, were two very clear categories of subjects I had been studying on my own, driven by my own interest and curiosity: women’s studies and religion. I had unearthed some of my hidden curiosities, passions, and desires!

Once upon a time in another person’s life, my friend went on a great European summer adventure with his old and reliable camera in hand. His great adventure was filled with learning, fun and picture taking. He could hardly wait to return to the states in early September to develop all of the wonderful pictures he had taken of all of the beautiful women he saw in each new country and city.

Imagine his surprise when upon developing all of his many photographs he saw building, after ruin, after architectural angle and  points of interest. He was completely surprised by his own inner knower that led him to his life’s work. He is now a successful architectural photographer!

Want to start following your own bliss and passion? If you already know your driving dream then get going or keep going.

 There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. — Nelson Mandela

And if you are one of the many people whose passion, bliss and dreams are a mystery to you, then start your detective work now. Gather your books, pictures, articles, saved quotes, mementos, souvenirs, collections and any other clues you can about who you are, what you care about, what lights you on fire and sets your heart soaring. With these discoveries you too can start creating the life that is all you are capable of living. And your Mental Health & Happiness will hold steady at a bliss-filled level.                                              

Crowded Closets…

By Dr. Ken Larsen

I was looking in my closet this morning.  I compared my side with my wife Sheren’s side.

cluttered closetMy side is crowded and cluttered making that favorite shirt hard to find.

Her side is neat and well organized with all items clearly visible and available.

What is the difference??

I keep everything.  Like Bill Cosby, I’ll keep wearing it until there’s nothing left but the elastic waist band.

She discards it if it hasn’t been used in a year.

neatclosetI’ve been seeing how important it is to let go of what is no longer useful or helpful in my walk through life.

Now I have to apply that realization to my closet.

Good Will, here I come!

Seriously, I think it is a good thing to take an inventory of our beliefs and behaviours from time to time.

Take a look at what is working.   We need to keep those beliefs and behaviours that help us make progress in getting our needs met and that help us stay close to those we love and care about.

At the same time, take a look at what is not working for us.  Do we find ourselves  repeatedly in undesirable situations?  Do we find ourselves not as close to loved ones as we’d like to be? Maybe some caring and careful self evaluation might be helpful.  There is much wisdom available, some of which was brought out in the Mental Health and Happiness Summit on October 10th.

We’ve learned that life involves a lifetime of learning.  And learning is not changing what you know as much as it is changing what you do.

Join me in cleaning out the closet.

Learning and Growing

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

Our brain is like a sponge, seeking new information through our every sense, including our sixth sense. With new information received we are processing the world to help us make decisions. We store this information and process our experiences. This combination of receiving and sorting helps us to understand the world and ourselves in the world better. The result is that we live in an ever changing world not only because the world is changing, but we are changing how we understand it. Our growth and learning is an inter-dependent interaction. This process is not only exciting and needs satisfying, it is also necessary. The greater the growth and learning the greater our Mental Health & Happiness.

What have you learned lately?

What have you done to put yourself in the position to be open to receiving new information?

This may not be as hard as you think. Have you read a good book lately? It doesn’t need to be only a non-fiction book to add to your knowledge base. Fiction can open you to places and experiences not part of your ordinary “real” life.  You can live new life experiences with fictional characters.

Want to learn even more through reading? Start reading different kinds of books from your usual. Choose a different genre, like biographies or historical fiction, or books of inspiration or “how-to” books, or fiction if you are a non-fiction reader, or vice versa.

Where is the last new place you experienced? It may be a different country, but it could be as simple as visiting a different county or state. If you live in the city spend a weekend in the country, and vice versa.

Do you attend church? Why not visit a different church this Sunday? You could visit a different denomination while you open your eyes, ears, and heart to new experiences.

Pathways to Mental Health & Happiness: Curiosity, Learning and Discovering

by Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

These days there is much talk and attention being given to brain science, health and growth. It wasn’t all that long ago that the world believed your brain never repaired or regenerated itself. We now know this is not true. Once our brain is damaged, it is possible for new and altered pathways to develop. Now the concepts of a changing and growing brain are better understood. We are living during a time of considered research and understanding of what is actually happening in our brains.

Words like Human Brain Plasticity and Brain Activity and Connectivity  are not only being talked about and studied, there are now products to be purchase to help keep your brain in good working order and at optimal shape and conditioning.

Not only can you purchase a program or game to support brain health and Mental Health & Happiness, you can also rely on your own inherent genetic instruction and achieve the same thing. There is growing research to support Dr. Glasser’ idea that curiosity, learning and discovering are examples of our basic need for fun! Glasser stated that when we are having fun we are learning and when we are learning we are having fun. Now there is research supporting a positive brain state associated with learning.

In order to verify this thought for yourself, think back to something that your have learned, or are  learning now. I wouldn’t use the example of learning algebra in school unless algebra is something you wanted to learn. But it might be learning a musical instrument, a sport, a different language, photography, painting, astronomy, riding a unicycle or juggling. Were you enjoying yourself, playing and having fun while you were learning? Even though it may have taken time, concentration and perseverance, you also experienced joy, satisfaction and happiness. If this was not the case for you, then it’s time you started learning something that provokes your curiosity.

Here is one more example from my own life. In a recent conversation I had with my 4-year old grandson, I was once again talking with him about who my son is and how he’s related to Malakai? Who is another of my sons who is Malakai’s uncle? Figuring out who is who in a family via the son, daughter, mother, father and second cousin twice removed is a sophisticated concept. Who is my son? How is he related to you? I asked. Suddenly there was a bright smile and a knowing gleam in his eye. That’s my Dad he said to me with great satisfaction and pleasure. That was learning and discovery. And that contributed to his Mental Health & Happiness.

If you want to create a new pathway for your own Mental Health & Happiness, pursue your curiosity by learning and discovering something new today!

Making Dreams Come True

by Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

You gotta have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna make a dream come true?    —  Happy Talk from South Pacific 

People who regularly write down their goals earn nine times as much over their lifetimes as the people who don’t, according to Dave Kohl, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech. 80% of Americans say they don’t have goals. Sixteen percent do, but they don’t write them down. Less than four percent write down their goals and fewer than one percent actually review them on an ongoing basis. The one percent are the most likely to be successful in goal attainment.

What’s a goal? A dream! Choice theory psychology explains that our dreams and our goals are the quality world pictures we have of how we want to meet our needs. These dreams, or pictures are based on our experiences of what is actually need fulfilling. But they don’t have to only e based on reality and experience. Our quality world pictures are also what we hope and expect will be need fulfilling for us in the future. In other words, dreams. We don’t need to limit our dreams to what is possible or realistic.

Glasser, in his many books and articles explaining choice theory psychology stated that our motivation comes from inside of each of us. Our behavior is our constant attempt to satisfy one or more of the five basic needs, for safety, love, power, fun, and freedom. Everything we do is initiated by our urge to satisfy our pictures, dreams, goals.

goals_desiresOne of the challenges we each face, however, is that we often want more than one thing at the same time. As you sit reading this blog you may also be aware of your goal to get to work on time, or keep an important appointment, or some other goal you have for yourself today.

Not only does each of us have more than one dream, goal or picture we are aiming for, there may be other people in our lives who make demands and requests, distracting us toward our own goal. Because we probably have an equally important picture in our quality world of maintaining these connections and relationships we allow ourselves to be distracted from the constant and singular attempts toward only one dream.

What’s the solution?

Write down your dream or goal as specifically as possible. Dream bigger than is reasonable as “unrealistic expectations”led to our most profound discoveries and changes. (Think Steve Job’s impossible dream that every person would depend on a hand-held computer that could also be used as a phone, camera and video recorder.)

Aim for a balanced life where you are aiming for dreams in all areas of your life that are important: family, health, career, intimate relationship, education, hobby, spiritual life, finances, adventures or vacation, what else is important to you?

Create a 1 year, then 5 year, then 10 year plan so you know what dreams you are aiming for today, and what part of other dreams you are aiming for today.

Review, evaluate and adjust your dreams/goals as well as your progress regularly, if not monthly then at least with every change of season.

futurequoteCelebrate regularly! Celebrate your dream coming true, Celebrate your hard work as you continue to aim for a goal. Celebrate to inspire you to keep working, dreaming, learning, and living! Celebrate because you can!

Start today by writing down just one dream. If you don’t talk happy and you never dream,then you’ll never have a dream come true, Bloody Mary tells us in South Pacific.

Dreaming a dream, setting a goal, and working towards and for it ensures Mental Health & Happiness.


Well Done! Good Job! ‘Ata girl!

by Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

My very first job evaluation occurred six months after starting my very first job as a professional nurse in a private psychiatric hospital. My boss and evaluator was the psychiatrist of the Day Hospital in the second oldest private psychiatric hospital in the country. He told me that I was performing up to expectation and had made no errors. He had no complaints.

I was confused and unhappy with this evaluation. What had I done well? Where were areas for growth and improvement? Did I add any value to the team? Were there particular skills I could improve? Did I bring any gifts and where were my challenges? None of these questions were answered or even addressed. I didn’t realize these were questions I had and feedback I craved until after the evaluation was complete. Nothing more could be done at this point because Dr. M had checked me off his “to do”list.

Six months later I was sitting with Dr. M again, this time for my first yearly review. He gave me the same kinds of answers and feedback that he had at our first meeting. This time I was prepared though. This time I asked for feedback on what I was doing well, what contribution he felt I was making, and where did he recommend I could improve the quality of my work.

His answer left me confused and unhappy yet again. He said he could not provide me with these answers. The fact that I needed and wanted this kind of feedback indicated that I was young and inexperienced. He then showed me to the door, and checked this task off his “to do”list yet again.

Based on his feedback I gave this a great deal of thought and self-reflection. It was true that I was young and inexperienced. It was also true that my parents provided me with their feedback which included my strengths and areas to focus for growth and learning. So had all of my teachers.

By the time my second yearly evaluation was pending I still was interested in feedback I could use as information to self-evaluate. Maybe I was young and inexperienced, and I still wanted information to help me do my job well. I went into this evaluation prepared to get what I wanted.

Dr. M started the review as he had previously. Once he completed sharing with me all his “satisfactory”checks on the list for employee job performance review he looked at me. I was ready.

Dr. M, can you provide me with any additional feedback regarding the quality of my work

He shook his head no, bent elbows resting on his chair, and folded hands blocking his mouth. My advanced skills at reading non verbal communication led me to believe he planned on saying nothing further.

I would still like this kind of feedback. Perhaps it is because I’m young and inexperienced, but I would find it helpful. Here is my plan that I want to share with you before I implement it. I’m going to ask my work colleagues to please provide me with immediate feedback when and if they see me doing a particularly good job. I would like the same kind of immediate feedback if anyone notices when I do something that could be improved upon. I ask that people share the improvement bit in private.

Do you have any objection to my plan, Dr. M? 

He did not.

What happened next was amazing and very satisfying. At our next team meeting (we had these meeting twice a day) I shared with my colleagues what I wanted and asked if they felt they could offer me this feedback.

Yes! was the unanimous reply. And EVERYONE else on the team stated they would like the same feedback given to them.

WOW! The age range of our team was great, some young, some middle and some older. The experience range was equally diverse. Perhaps my desire for feedback was not related to my age or lack of experience.

I learned a lot of things from that life lesson. I learned that what I want does not matter less because of my boss’s opinion. It does not matter more than what other people want including my boss. But it does matter.  And it is my job to figure out how to get what I want.

The biggest lesson I learned was this. Asking for what I want takes courage. And asking for what I want increases the chances that I will get what I want.

The Placebo Effect


By Dr. Ken Larsen

William James, whom some credit with being the father of American Psychology, once proclaimed, “I don’t sing because I’m happy, I’m happy because I sing.”

This simple yet profound statement points to the interconnection between what we do and how we feel.   Dr. Wm. Glasser points to what he calls “total behavior”.  Total behavior is recognizing the interplay between what we do, the ways we think, our emotions and our physiology.

We can only control our actions.  What we do shapes our thinking, which then impacts how we feel.  Finally, as we are learning, our thinking and emotions tie into our physiology,  and our mental and physical health.

The placebo effect shows us how what we believe has an effect on our health and well being.  Then there is the “nocebo” effect.  When we believe we are miserable and lonely, we probably will be.

We have a choice here.  We can let the way we feel rule our lives, or we can have some control over the way we feel by what we choose to do.  We can learn from Anna in “The King and I”

While shivering in my shoes
I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune
And no one ever knows I’m afraid

The result of this deception
Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people
I fear I fool myself as well