Tag Archives: thinking

Garbage In, Garbage Out

By Dr. Ken Larsen

Back when computers needed programmers to make them work, before Microsoft and Apple took over the computer world, this expression, abbreviated to “GIGO”, described an essential reality.  What we got out of computers was only as good as what we put into them.  I believe that this is essentially true of our minds.


Dr. Dan Siegel has given us his definition of “mind”:  “A core aspect of the mind is an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information.”   We experience this flow of energy and information as ideas and thoughts.  We use the ideas in our mind to form our thoughts.  What I’d like us to think about is how do our ideas get into our mind?  And, then, how do the thoughts that we form from those ideas affect our mental health and happiness?

Many of our ideas come to us through our experience of life.  In our early years we experience pretty things that fly.   This experience forms the idea of birds and butterflies.  We can then recognize new kinds of birds and butterflies and have thoughts about them as we learn more and more about the world and how we function in our world.  This process continues to bring new ideas into our mind.  At some point we learn that we can add the ideas of others to our own, expanding our range of thought.  It is this voluntary intake of ideas that can help us find mental health and happiness or we can take in ideas that form thoughts that are not healthy or happy.  I am particularly concerned about the ideas that come to us from what we choose for entertainment.

As the gumball machine illustrates, we can only draw from the ideas that are in our mind.  If we allow ideas into our minds that are foolish, or hurtful or destructive, there will be a price to pay in decreased mental health and happiness.  This can have an impact on our relationships.  Dr. Glasser has warned us that ideas that generate criticism, blaming, complaining, punishing, threatening, nagging and bribing will drive us apart from those we need in our lives.

I’d like to gently challenge us to be more reflective about what we put into our minds and the minds of our children.  Plato encouraged us to seek the “good, the true, and the beautiful.”  With ideas shaped by those qualities, our thoughts will lift us and connect us in ways that will enhance our mental health and happiness.

If you’d like some “homelearning” related to this discussion, seek out and study Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”.  For an old Greek, he sure had some profound insights into the human condition.

Stinking Thinking

Contributed by Denise Daub

Have you ever met someone for the very first time and seconds later you cannot recall their name? Or maybe you have had the all too common experience of arriving in your garage with little recollection of the journey home. All these everyday common occurences indicate that the average person is spending a large portion of their lives lost in thought.

It’s often been referred to as the monkey mind and many people can probably relate to the analogy of a playful child. The truth of the matter is that your brain loves to play. It is “on” every moment of the day. And if there is nothing entertaining in the outside environment it often resorts to playing indoors.

But what’s it playing with? You might be surprised to know it’s largely negative and useless thoughts. There are seven typical thoughts that commonly capture attention and steal it away from the important things in life.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-pearse/7-types-of-thinking-to-give-up-immediately_b_8130848.html?ir=Healthy%20Living?ncid=newsltushpmg00000003

Total behavior and Atrial Fibrillation

by Dr. Ken Larsen

Dr. Wm. Glasser taught us about “total behavior”.  His insight that our actions, our thinking, our emotions and our physiology are all interconnected helps us understand ourselves and one another.  Each of the components of this total behavior have an impact on the other parts.  My actions affect my emotions and my physiology, my thinking affects my actions and emotions.  This helps us see that we are one integrated whole and not a separated collection of parts and pieces.  They all work together as we move more closely to deeper mental health and happiness.

Emotions often get our attention, especially when they cause some discomfort.  Depression and anxiety are epidemic in our culture and have victimized far too many of us for far too long.  Our mental health is overshadowed by these emotional states.  Our tendency is to look outside ourselves for the cause of our depression or anxiety.  Sometimes we may need to look inside ourselves for the cause.  Let me tell you what happened to me that brought this message home.


A couple years back I started to experience a very uncomfortable level of anxiety.  It was what is described as “free floating anxiety” without any apparent cause.  I was not facing divorce or foreclosure, my dog hadn’t died—any of these would foster some real anxiety.  What I was feeling didn’t seem to have a focus, but it was very real.  I was tempted to have one of my physician friends Rx some Xanax, but I decided to look elsewhere before asking for the Rx.

I had heard about “HeartMath” and was reading one of the books published by that organization.  I turned to the section on “Anxiety” and I read that sometimes a physiological condition could cause anxiety.  They specifically mentioned cardiac arrhythmia as a possible cause.

I made an app’t with my primary care physician and described the situation, especially the part about an arrhythmia.  He scooted me into the room where they do EKGs and sure enough, the EKG readout clearly pointed to atrial fibrillation.  This is a condition where the upper chambers of the heart are not working as they should.

Once this diagnosis was made, I was given the appropriate treatment and the anxiety slipped away.

I’m not saying I am totally free of anxiety.  If I got a letter from the IRS, I suspect I would get a little uptight.

In our quest to enjoy more mental health and happiness, it is good to be aware that we are whole beings “fearfully and wonderfully made” with an amazing complexity to the way our parts and systems work together.  It’s good to have this in mind if mental health and happiness become a bit elusive.

You are what you think

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

Do you pay attention to the food you eat? Are you choosing foods and drinks that refresh, nourish and support your body and optimal health? These days there is more information than ever about what good and healthy choices actually mean. Sometimes this information and advice can actually be more confusing than helpful. The need to become informed, thoughtful and an educated consumer is not only true for your own individual needs, but also for your family.

If you drive a car, do you pay attention to your safe driving habits? Are you cautious and conscious when driving in a school zone, on mountain pass or through inclement weather? Before you take a long road trip you probably conscientiously have your mechanic give your car the tending and overhaul necessary to ensure a safe and hazard-free trip.

How would you rate your dental and oral hygiene routine? On a scale of one to ten with one being neglectful and careless and ten indicating that you follow your dentist’s and hygienist’s recommendations regularly, what is your score?

You are what you eat.
You are what you do.
You are what you think. 

Louise Hay, self-help guru and mother of the modern-day positive affirmation movement has been preaching the idea that you become what you think for years. Your thoughts either support, heal and help you, or they harm, hurt and damage you.


Consistent with Glasser’s notion that all behavior is total comprised of the four simultaneously occurring components of: acting, thinking, feeling, and physiology (ing), a thought is not simply a thought. There is simultaneously accompanying acting, feeling and physiology(ing) with every thought. When you think happy, optimistic, affirmative thoughts your concurrent acting, feeling and physiology is optimistic and affirmative. When you think negative, hurtful or angry thoughts, your concurrent acting, feeling and physiology is negative, hurtful or angry.

Is it time you started considering your verbal and thought diet? When you start self-evaluating and taking a similar inventory about your private thoughts, as well as your oral and written statements as you did with your food, driving and oral hygiene habits, how are you doing?

If you aren’t really sure, let today be the day you start being conscious of your private thoughts. Start listening to what you say to others and yourself.

Is it time for you to alter your thinking and verbal diet to improve your Mental Health & Happiness? You are what you think. Since there are so many wonderful thoughts to choose from, start choosing delightful, loving and kind thoughts today. Try this:

Today I choose to be Mentally Healthy & Happy

You make me so miserable!!!

Dr. Ken Larsen

miserable_kenDr. Glasser told us that we choose our own misery.  That’s just what a miserable person wants to hear, right?  WRONG!  When I ‘m miserable I want someone to blame.  I want to feel helpless and a victim of the fickle finger of adverse circumstances.  Something, someone OUT THERE is causing my misery and suffering.

The problem is whose behavior can I control?  If my suffering is caused by someone or something outside of myself, I am condemned to a prolonged period of suffering.  I am a victim.  No one understands me.  Poor me.

Please forgive my mocking tone as I make this point.  The hopeful message that Dr. Glasser was bringing us is that if we are choosing our own misery, we can choose something else.  If we stop criticizing, blaming and complaining about external causes, we can take responsibility for our life and our total behavior.   A good way to recapture the mental health and happiness that has slipped away is to look at what we can change, our behavior.

total-behaviorDr. Glasser talks about total behavior as the four wheels on a car.  The front wheels are what steer the car.  They are how we choose to act and to think.  The back wheels are often the result of what we are doing with the front wheels.  Our actions and our thoughts have an impact on our emotions and our physiology.  The evidence for this is conclusive.

The hard part is turning away from the misery that shelters us from responsibility.  It takes courage and determination.  To change our miserable feelings, we need to move away from the back wheels and work on what we are doing and thinking.  This can be as simple as taking a walk, and reading an inspirational account of someone who has overcome their misery.

I have had bouts of depression and melancholy many times throughout my life.  I have learned to pay attention to what I’m telling you here.  It’s hard to stay miserable and depressed when physically active.  I’ve learned to take a walk, ride a bike, go the club for a workout, call a friend.  Anything to shift the focus of my attention from the navel gazing “poor, poor, pitiful me” to something that refreshes my appreciation for the life that I have.

For many of us, this message is a review of fundamental insights from Dr. Glasser’s Choice Theory.  It is good to review fundamentals from time to time to refresh the wisdom we have learned.

Use it or lose it!

by Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN                                                          

Are you interested in keeping your mind and thinking sharp? Then use it. Recent research tells us that frequent participation in problem solving and thinking games and activities will help us ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Want to maintain your physical strength and abilities? Then start exercising and keep at it. Amazingly our muscles will grow stronger as long as we are using them. Using them can include strength building exercises, playing sports, or completing activities of daily living.


Do you want to remain a sexual person? This same principle applies. Use it or lose it. Engaging in sexual activities keeps your sexual desire alive. And when the desire and urge are present chances are that acts of romance will follow.

Now lets consider your happiness muscles. Are you using them frequently and regularly? If not you are bound to slowly lose them. Use it or lose it applies to your Mental Health & Happiness too.

Do you know any grumpy people? Sadly there are more peevish older people than those of other ages. But being irritable and crotchety is not reserved exclusively for the elderly. Anyone who is not exercising, using and working out their happiness muscles is in great peril of becoming ill-tempered and churlish.

Rather than waiting for the research to confirm this idea, understand NOW that if you don’t practice strengthening, endurance and flexibility in developing your happiness muscles you will lose them.

Choose to meet your needs for safety, fun, love & belonging, power and freedom every day in responsible and respectful ways. Exercise your happiness muscles in the following ways:

smiling    producing    giving thanks   journaling   relaxing being mindful   creating       being in sunshine   exercising  physically   sleeping     healthy eating     socializing     volunteering   meditating                                                          

What do you do everyday to improve your personal well-being?

Remember if you don’t use it you’ll lose it!              

Half Full or Half Empty: You Choose

By Dr. Ken Larsen

perceptionOur perceptions are what shape our responses to life.  It is important to remember that our perceptions are not photographs of the reality outside of ourselves.  They are more like drawings that we construct in our mind.  We have some choices in how our perceptions are formed, and in turn those perceptions have a lot to do with our mental health and happiness.

I remember the 1964 movie “The Outrage”.   Paul Newman plays a Mexican bandit who performs an “outrage” on the female lead.  This incident was witnessed by four different people.  When asked to testify to what they saw, each reported a totally different incident.

We contact the world around us through our senses.  The data that is fed into our brain from our five senses is filtered through our past experiences, what we have learned, what we remember, what we believe, and our values.   Each of these filters Is unique to each of us so that even when two people experience the same situation the perceptions that are formed will not be the same.  When we realize this and engage in dialogue with others, we can share our perceptions to arrive at a deeper understanding of reality.  We can also fall prey to the folly of the six blind men who fought over their perceptions of the different parts of the elephant and never did learn much about the elephant beyond their own limited perception.

We have all heard the question “Is the glass half full or half empty”?  The quantity of water in the glass is the same in either case, even though an engineer would say the glass is too big.  Aside from that, the perception of the glass being half full or half empty is a matter of choice.   Dr. Glasser has pointed out that we choose our own misery.  This is one way that illustrates the truth of his wisdom.

In my dental practice I would occasionally have a patient who was nearly paralyzed with fear.  If I could establish a trusting rapport, I would help them come to the realization that their fear was a response to an internal perception and not to the present reality. If I could help them “be here now” the fear was dissipated and they would be able to manage their experience in a much better way.

There is a way that we can sort of step back from what is going on in our perceived world to evaluate our perceptions to see if they are helping us get our needs met.  We can then make choices in how we are going to handle not only our existing perceptions, but how our perceptions are formed.

Dr. Glasser’s book, Stations of the Mind, is very helpful with what I am discussing here.  Especially Chapter 7 “The Orders of Perception”.  What we learn about how we process our life experience can and will help us make the choices that lead to better mental health and more happiness.

What are you waiting for?

By Dr. Nancy Buck

  • I’ll start going to the gym once I lose ten pounds.
  • We can start traveling like we always wanted to once our finances are in better shape.
  • When my child is able to handle his temper outbursts better, we’ll go to library story time.
  • When my spouse stops working so hard I’ll make plans for a better marriage.
  • When it stops raining I’ll begin walking in nature.
  • When it starts raining I’ll begin walking in nature

What are you putting off? Do you hear yourself saying “I’ll do that when . . .” Are you putting off your own happiness, making it dependent on another person’s behaviors and changes? Are you postponing your own mental health?

Imagine that the thing you’re waiting for has happened. Imagine you’ve lost the ten pounds, it started or stopped raining, your child is perfectly well behaved, you have plenty of money, and your spouse is home each evening at a reasonable hour. How would you life be different?

Here’s the trickier question: How would you be different in your life? How would you feel? What would you be thinking? What would your actions be?

Now imagine that none of the things you’re waiting for ever happen? Imagine you never lose that ten pounds (maybe even gain another ten), your spouse never gets home any earlier, it never stops or starts raining, and your child goes from one stage of misbehaving to another. Now what?

Here’s an idea. Start acting, thinking and feeling differently even if none of those things you’re waiting for change!

Eliminate the middle step of waiting for those other things. Start now to feel, think and act the way you want. It can actually be that simple.

Instead of waiting to feel, think and act the way you want, just start acting and thinking as you want. You will also start feeling that way too.

If you want mental health and happiness, stop waiting for the world and the people in it to be perfect so you can be mentally healthy and happy. Start acting and thinking then feeling mentally healthy and happy even though the world and the people in it are not perfect.

Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections. —   Gerard Way


Feel what you’re feeling!

 By Dr. Ken Larsen

Helping a person get free of the sometimes paralyzing phantom of fear conjured up by their own imagination is a wonderful thing to experience.  Mental health and happiness requires us to come to grips with the reality of the difficult things in life.  Recently I heard a phrase that seemed to be very wise.  The phrase was “urge surfing.”  This phrase describes how a feeling that we don’t want, like a craving or an unwarranted fear, comes at us like a wave.  What can you do to stop a wave?  You can’t. You can watch it rise up and then ebb away, like the receding tide.  This requires us to have the courage to feel what we are feeling so that we can learn how to deal with it.

When I was still practicing dentistry I would often invite a patient to “fegirl2el what you’re feeling.” I was looking to bring them to an awareness of what is actually happening in the here and now.  I wanted to help the person to not think about what they were afraid they might experience and focus on what was actually happening in the present reality.  Sometimes I would simply touch the person and ask them what they felt.  They would then report what they felt from my touch.  I would then invite them to stay in that place of awareness, total focused on what is happening here and now.

This often preceded the dreaded “shot” of local anesthetic.  It is so satisfying to be with a person who is able to shift from their fearful thoughts to being here now, experiencing what is actually happening and not what they are afraid might happen.  I would then ask them to focus on what they are feeling so completely so they can describe it to me afterwards.  I encouraged them to be as detailed and precise as they were able.   The clincher came when I asked them after the experience what they felt.  The usual responses were “I didn’t feel a thing,” to a “I felt a little stick and some pressure.”  We then talk about the experience.  I usually say something like, “Was that a manageable experience?”  And most often they answer with something like, “It wasn’t at all what I was expecting,” or “it wasn’t anything like I was afraid I’d feel.”

More and more we are learning that our thinking patterns are what are disturbing to us.  This bit of wisdom:   Pain x resistance=suffering  speaks to how ineffective it is to resist what we feel.  We can’t make it go away, and we make it worse by trying to fight it.  What we resist persists.

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