Ask any parent what they want for their children and they will say happiness. But what can parents do to insure their child’s well being?

Imagine a scene. Soft warm lighting, gentle sounds. A close up on two faces. One, a mother, the other, her infant. Mom holds baby securely in her arms and gazes into her baby’s eyes. She smiles. Baby settles into mom’s hold, gurgles and smiles back. This scene has been repeated endless times. But if we look beyond the surface, what is happening in mom and baby’s neurological system?

When the baby sees mom looking at her with attention and love in her eyes, this releases certain chemicals in the brain that make the baby excited and happy. The baby experiences pleasure. The mother has a similar neuro-chemical reaction. The baby begins to associate this good feeling with mom and her loving gaze. It is naturally built into the baby to seek out such good feelings, so it begins to want mom for another hit of euphoria. This is the beginning of a bond of attachment between mother and infant.

Evolution has done a good job of adaptation by fostering this connection between baby and mother for several reasons. One of the most obvious is that infants are completely vulnerable and need the protection of its parents to survive. The baby’s and mother’s need and desire for closeness keeps the baby safe.

But there is another reason why this look of love is important for the newborn. When mother and child share this gaze, the child’s brain is bathed in happy-making brain chemicals like dopamine. This triggers the growth of neurons, and neuron connections, in the brain. Neurons and their connections are what provide us with all of the abilities that our brains give us. When the baby grows neurons as a result of sharing a loving gaze with mom, this leads to the development of the baby’s ability to think, feel, imagine, act and connect with others. The full development and realization of these abilities are the wellspring of happiness. The baby wants to keep going back for more and more of this emotional meal, and each time they do their brain grows and develops in a positive way.

Imagine another scene. Cold lighting, loud noises. Mom is depressed, distracted and self-absorbed. She holds her baby limply. She gazes off into space. The infant sensing that she is not being held securely. The infant automatically goes into the “moro reflex,” which is the way a baby tenses its body when it feels like it is falling. The baby seeks out mother, but even though the mom is there physically, the infant “feels” abandoned. This causes the baby’s brain to be flooded with stress hormones like cortisol. It feels anxious, frightened, angry and despairing. These chemicals destroy neurons and neuron connections in the brain. The baby’s capacities for love and connection do not develop. The baby begins to learn that she is unlovable and the world is an unsafe place. If the baby experiences something like this over and over, the building blocks for anxiety and depression are put into place.

Neuro-biological research has now proven that the mother’s look of love is the first emotional sunlight, soil and water for the child to grow toward becoming what it is meant to be: capable, fulfilled and loving.

The foundation of adult happiness is very simple. If you are a parent who wants your children to be happy, look at them with love.

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Why can my son play video-games forever but can’t focus on his homework for a minute? Why do I hate myself whenever I try to write a paper? Why does my daughter do the same dumb things over and over again?

As a psychotherapist, I hear these kinds of questions all the time from parents and young people. The answer that most professionals give is to diagnose the sufferer with ADD, short for Attention Deficit Disorder.

I have a new and different way of thinking about, and dealing with, these problems. I call this model The FOESEA Continuum Method. I have had great success in using this approach to help people with these issues lead productive, successful, and fulfilling lives.

What is the FOESEA continuum? FOESEA is an acronym for the six areas of functioning that can be difficult for people diagnosed with ADD. These six attributes are:

•    Focus                                  the ability to stay on task for sustained periods of time.
•    Organization                    the ability to manage time and space.
•    Executive function       the ability to make the best decisions and learn from experience.
•    Social interaction          the ability to read social cues and get along with others.
•    Esteem regulation         the ability to feel good about yourself most of the time.
•    Affect regulation            the ability to maintain an optimal emotional range.

How is FOESEA different from ADD? One problem with the idea of ADD is that this diagnosis suggests you either have “it” or you don’t have “it.” Most people don’t like to be categorized like this and they are right to feel this way. This is not the way humans work. Instead, in each of the six categories we all lay somewhere along a continuum. Each person is unique and has their individual combination of attributes that make up who they are. A person’s chart might look something like this:

Focus              ————————————————————————  *  —————————–
Org.                 ———————————————————————————-  *  ——————-
Exec. Func.  ——————————————————–  *  ———————————————
Social             ————————  *  —————————————————————————–
Esteem          ——————————————————————  *  ———————————–
Affect            ——————————————————————————————–  *  ———-

In the FOESEA Continuum Method:

•    The therapist and client collaborate in continuous detective work. They gather clues to create an ever-developing, unique profile of that person.

•    Once this unique picture is created, the therapist and client figure out what works and what doesn’t work for that person.

•    Once an individual understands themselves in this way, they can become empowered to get the supports they need to accomplish their goals.

•    The method sets high expectations, knowing that with appropriate help, almost anything is possible.

When a person is seen as unique instead of as a diagnosis, they experience their one-of-a-kind personality as a strength instead of a weakness. Once they are recognized for their special value, they naturally blossom. The FOESEA Continuum Method focusses on an individual’s intelligence, imagination, passion, beauty, goodness and love rather than buying into the view that they have a problem that dooms them. This is the beginning of helping them become the best they can be.

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Alan GreenspanStatistics like 10% unemployment and reports of 50% pay cuts barely capture the pain and Menciusanxiety that so many of us are experiencing in today’s struggling economy. How can we  get through this rough period and also figure out how to succeed in such troubling times? How can we set the economic ship of the world on a course that minimizes this kind of distress in the future? In order to find the solution we need to understand how we got here and what is presently going on.

Much has been said about the technicalities of toxic assets, the lack of regulation on exotic investment instruments and other incomprehensible economic arcana. Some has been said about a culture of short-term gain and greed run amok. Even a free market devotee like Alan Greenspan has had to admit that the market did not do its magic of self-regulating to the best possible outcome.

How did this happen? How did we get to a place where very smart people acted against their own interests? Are people dumb or evil? 2300 years ago the people of China found themselves in a similar situation. The world’s greatest Sage, a man named Mencius (Men-shus), devoted his life to understanding how things could go so wrong in a society and what to do about it. Observing nature, he recognized that there were laws by which the universe operated. Following what he observed in agriculture, if you understood and followed these laws of cultivation, you could increase your yield dramatically. If you went against them, nothing would grow. He called these laws the heavenly mandate, and applied this principle to politics. If leaders followed the heavenly mandate, that is the laws of nature and human nature, people would have peace, happiness and abundance. If leaders lived against this law, there would be discord, economic distress, anxiety and depression.

If we believe what Mencius says, it means that we are in this economic pickle because those in control of the levers of the economy have been living against natural law, and against human nature. Mencius believed that just as our eyes know the beautiful, it is our heart that knows the good, and so it is the faculty of the heart that can judge whether we are living in harmony with the heavenly mandate. When we do not realize that we are living against these principles, it means that we have a lost heart. Another way of saying this is that we have lost touch with our common sense, which was also considered throughout history to reside in the heart. This is based on the humanist belief that we are not stupid or evil. Rather, we all have a basic sense of the good and the right, if we can only access it.  Our troubled bi-polar economy, manic one moment and depressed the next, is a measure of the extent to which we live in a lost-hearted culture.

How have we been living against those laws? As Mencius understood then, and as all ancient peoples understood, simply getting the greatest yield, or amassing the greatest amount of wealth, does not mean that you are following the laws of cultivation. These laws have an ecology, an interdependence between all things that require balance and harmony and a consideration of the long view above all else. Nature tells us that rather than an economy that is geared to making the most money for the smallest number, it needs to provide the maximum well being for the greatest numbers on a sustainable basis.

In order to achieve the kind of harmony that will lead to this favorable outcome, we must understand all the aspects of our being, not simply the material ones. This emphasis on the concrete and away from understanding in depth has obvious consequences. We see evidence of our imbalance all around. The sharp contrast between the financial CEO who makes hundreds of millions and the plight of the average unemployed worker is only one aspect of this. We have seen in our culture a progression towards the greatest value being put on the work place. If young professionals do not spend 12 or 14 hours in the office, they fear that they will not advance. Others are made to spend 60% of their time on the road. As a result, people do not have time to develop relationships or spend time with their families. This can have terrible consequences, as research indicates that at least for the first three years of life a child needs the active care of their mother for their optimal development. If mom is a young lawyer and spends 60 hours a week in the office, her children are not getting what they need. This culture-wide dehumanization and workaholism is a major contributor to problems like addiction and depression. By living in a world where all of our hours are spent at the work place, we have lost our moral footing, or sense of what is of essential value.

What did Mencius propose to cure this problem? He said that in order to find the central harmony, or to live according to the good sense within us which is the inward manifestation of the universal law, we need to find our lost heart. In order to find the heart, we need to live lives of self-cultivation. In the same way that our plants need the proper sunlight, soil and water to grow, we need to give ourselves what we need to grow a truly abundant, sustainable, socially responsible and meaning-filled economy. That means that we have to put the full force of our intellectual, emotional and moral force into developing ourselves. We need to live from a place of devotion to our own growth and the well being of the world. We need to work very hard, but only toward the end of true meaning and purpose.

We do this, first and foremost by making a commitment to our own development, and doing something toward this every day. This is especially important for those at the top, who have a broader impact on our financial wellbeing, but is important for all of us, whether we are some small part of this machine that regulates our capital, or we are simply running the family economy. This cultivation is an act of what the Germans would call “Bildung.”  Bildung means growth through an immersion in culture. We must devote ourselves to learning the inherited wisdom of all time, so that we can learn the eternal principles. We need to explore literature, art and music as much as we learn about economics and business. We need to balance our concrete ways of thinking by enriching our imaginations by spending time in  the world of symbol through myths and tales. We all must learn how to best take care of our bodies, other people and our world.

We need to learn about ourselves. Without a penetrating understanding of human nature,  which begins  with a process of self-exploration, as Alan Greenspan was to learn all too late in life, we can make gross errors of judgment about how people will act and behave.  We need, perhaps most of all, to learn how to have intimate relationships. The only way to grow is to truly open ourselves to other human beings.

This path of self-cultivation which has been known for centuries, is especially necessary for the world today. Everything in our world of work is changing. The world where people found security by working for one corporation for a lifetime is gone. Technology is changing so rapidly that by the time a new business model comes online it is already obsolete.   Those people who will be lifelong learners and are most comfortable with change are the ones who are going to find success in this new world. The only security we are going to create is the control we take of our own work lives. We will be able to do this through continuously developing our intellectual and skill capital. Those of us who depend on old models will find themselves left behind. The people with the greatest imaginations, those who can envision the possibilities available in this new world, will be the ones who blaze trails and come out on top.

Much of what prevents people from being able to change in these ways are old emotional injuries, starting at the earliest phase of life. We now have evidence that our earliest interactions have a profound influence on our capacity for learning, personal growth, change, imagination and the emotional self-regulation necessary to thrive in a world of continuous new demands. The only way to free our natural abilities for adaptation is to work on healing those wounds thorugh a process of self-discovery. In order for our children to thrive in this new world they are going to need optimal upbringing because the most rounded, emotionally healthy and creative people are the ones who are going to have the skills needed in this new world. In order to give our children this kind of upbringing, we need to heal ourselves. We need to widely disseminate the knowledge and skills for self-healing so the greatest number of people can benefit from this understanding.

What will our culture look like if we develop ourselves in a way that brings us into greater harmony with the heavenly mandate? Actually, our technology can be a help in this regard. One great secret of this world where we are married to our work is that most people spend all too many hours in the workplace, but they spend very few of those hours actually being productive. For many, more hours are spent on Facebook than doing work. People hate being trapped in their offices, resenting time away from the rest of their lives, and act out by screwing around. We now have the technology so most people can do a great deal of their work from home. We need to re-vision work. People can work  from home, creating their own flexible hours so they can have time to drop off the kids at school, help them with homework, and tuck them in at night. People will be more productive because they will be happier and their spouses and children will be happier, too. This can also be a significant aid in shrinking our carbon footprint and reducing global warming. How much fossil fuels will we save if every single person who commuted to work eliminated one or two days of driving their car?

As a society, we show what we value by how much we are willing to pay for it. Another change that we will see if we cultivate ourselves is that we will give less value to the work of Wall Street. For our culture to be the richest it can be, more than financiers and lawyers, we are going to need transformation leaders, teachers, therapists, coaches and health counselors. These are the people who are going to give us the tools necessary to be life-long growers. We will put more of our resources into these areas because we will see that social value is economic value. People on Wall Street and in law offices will be paid less, and change agents will be paid more.

These difficult times are the result of great changes in our society. If we are able to recognize our mistakes and correct them, and see the great potential in this time of transformation, there is great promise ahead for better lives for all of us. It is going to take courage, optimism, faith, perseverance and tremendous effort to come through this transition. These are the qualities that reside in the heart. The good news is that we all share those common attributes. All we need to do is find our hearts through a process of self-cultivation and we will have everything we need to not only find personal success and well-being, but to make the world a better place as well.

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If you’d like to read an excerpt from my book,

Finding the Lost Heart: A New Path to Growth, Love and Wisdom,

please click on one of the links below.

All feedback is greatly appreciated.

PDF excerpt from Finding the Lost Heart.

Word excerpt from Finding the Lost Heart.

Jesus on the mainlineOn the website, personallifemedia.com, Brian Johnson’s podcast tells us about the obscure New Thought guru, Wallace D. Wattles. Wattles suggests that in order to be great we need to be able to read the thoughts of god, and we can only do this when we do not feel fearful or anxious.

This parallels the wisdom of the Chinese classic, The Highest Order of Cultivation. This is the text that tells us that in order to live in harmony with the intrinsic order of the universe we have to cultivate  serenity. It is only when we do this that we find our hearts, which means that we live out our potentials for wisdom, passion, strength genius and love. Through finding inner peace, we do our part to bring our relationships, our culture, our politics and the universe into balance.

The only part that Johnson gets wrong is that all we need to eliminate our anxiety and fear is to do something in the moment, like take a bath, or have a run.

If it were that simple, we’d all be enlightened, and Brian and I would be out of a job. To overcome the intrinsic wiring and life-long conditionings that lead us to experience fear and anxiety require a life-long commitment. As Mircea Eliade explains it in his book of the same name, this is the definition of the word yoga (see page 4-5), which is any intensive, ongoing practice that leads to liberation from our conditioned existence.

In all likelihood no one of us will be wholly freed from that which keeps us from that mainline with god. But it is our life task of seeking that brings us, and humanity, ever closer to that goal.

Why Students Don't Like School by Daniel T. WillinghamThe way of devotion, or the bhakti marga, is getting some publicity in The Economic Times from the latest discoveries of neuroscience.  In Daniel T. Willingham’s book, Why Don’t Students Like School, published by Jossey Bass, he provides evidence to prove that we grow through practice beyond the point of mastery. We best learn through symbol, story and immersion, processes of the heart, rather than the head.

Whether we are seeking love, sex, money or purpose, the problem is within. When we find our hearts, we can find what we want in life. So in order to get what we want we have to devote ourselves to the daily practice of  self-cultivation. This, the Chinese sage, Mencius, tells us, is the way to find the heart.

This heralds back to the wisdom of Shankara, an 8th century advaita philosopher who deeply influenced the development of Hinduism. In his masterwork, “The Crest Jewel of Freedom,” he said:

Chief among the causes of Freedom is devotion, the intentness of the soul on its own nature. Or devotion may be called intentness on the reality of the Self.

We actualize our potentials through the sacred undertaking of devoting ourselves to the discovery of our heart.

In the end, the purpose of our quest is not to get something. The goal is not some end point, or even some final success. The goal is an immersion in the process itself. The finding is in the seeking. This is what gives us strength, courage and self-confidence.

david_und_goliath_michelangeloIn my work as an ADD coach, I often hear my clients bemoan the fact that what comes easily to others is hard for them. The harsh reality is that they speak the truth. As no one of us can measure the suffering of another or truly compare it to our own, each person deserves the full measure of compassionate understanding. So it is important to my clients that I recognize that this is a painful frustration.

I tell them that naming this difficulty is a good thing, because the first step in overcoming an obstacle is acknowledging it. I then remind my clients of the words of the great Chinese sage, Confucius, who said,

What other men may master in a single try, you yourself must strive to attain with efforts increased a hundredfold;
and what others may master in ten tries, you must strive to attain a thousand times over.
For, one whose efforts reach fruition in the mastery of this path,
be he of limited intellectual capacity, he will gain clear understanding;
and be he of weak disposition, he will enjoy great strength.

What this wisdom tells us is to not be held back by failure, or self-perceived limitation. No matter what we have suffered in our lives to this point or what we haven’t yet been able to achieve, we can succeed. All that is required is the absolute commitment to learn continuously, and apply the lessons learned in how we live our lives in every moment.

This view was backed up this week in the May 11th New Yorker article, “How David Beats Goliath” by the brilliant researcher and synthesist, Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell is the author of “Blink,”published by Little Brown and Co and “The Tipping Point” published by Back Bay Books . In this article, Gladwell shows that underdogs win by trying harder than everyone else.

Underdogs also succeed by doing what is societally unacceptable. You have to be audacious. David used a slingshot against Goliath. People who live on the ADD end of the spectrum are usually creative, eccentric, unlikely types who live, think and dream outside the box, making them well suited to doing things unconventionally.

If you are willing to put in the extra work, and use your uniqueness to your advantage, you may not be approved of by the powers that be, but you can succeed in life and win.