Entries by Martha Beck

Make Your Mind Part of the Peace…And Other Wisdom from Martha

Recently I’ve been pondering a process I call “bewilderment”—or, as I like to pronounce it, be-wilder-ment. It’s like enlightenment, but way less ambitious. I figure if we all become a little wilder, a little more present, a little more connected to whatever it is that makes dogs so damn happy, we’ll feel better and do better things. The first step in the bewilderment process, upon which everything else depends, is simple: CALM DOWN. I had a chance to practice this step when Cloyd, the rattlesnake pictured here, visited my house. My first reaction to Cloyd was a jolt of fear. I sometimes call our reptile brain the “inner lizard,” whose job it is to ensure our survival by making us afraid. But the reptile self might also be snake, like the spiny critters pictured in kundalini yoga. As I regarded Cloyd, it occurred to me that if I could calm […]

Chill Out! How to Overcome Burnout

You wake up almost as tired as when you fell asleep, four hours ago. After hitting the snooze button twice, you stumble to the kitchen and chug a quart of coffee. It doesn’t help. Your face in the mirror looks like the child you might have had with Voldemort. You can barely squeeze into your last-resort “fat pants.” Getting your kids off to school feels like climbing Everest; driving to the job you once loved, an uphill slog to the salt mines. You dread interacting with your coworkers. It’s not that you aren’t a caring, compassionate person; it’s just that you hate everyone. If this sounds familiar, you may think you’re depressed. But you might be dealing with a subtly different problem: burnout. Scientists differentiate the two, and it’s a crucial distinction. If you confuse burnout with depression and address it only with antidepressants or therapy, you’ll overlook the behavioral […]

Make the Madness a Game…Wisdom from Martha

This holiday season, I won’t get into the knicker-twisting anxiety and exasperation that once plagued my holidays. No interpersonal conflict, no traffic jam, no decorating disaster will get my goat. I may get all the way through January with my goat entirely ungotten. Is this because I am an enlightened being? No. Is it because I am a patient and loving person? No. It is because I’ll be playing Bingo. If you’re in the Tribe, you’re probably familiar with Dysfunctional Family Bingo. The rules are simple: before the holidays, make or download a blank Bingo form (click here to download the special bingo card we use). In each of the blank squares, write a brief description of something that virtually always happens to screw up your life during the holiday season. In one square you might write, “My kids have a screaming meltdown in the minivan.” In another, “My brother […]

How to Survive Life’s Rough Patches

“What is happening to my life?” said Dorothy, exhaustedly sipping a triple espresso across the table from me. “Did I do something to deserve this?” By “this,” Dorothy meant a series of crises that had recently hit her like a gang of meth-crazed prizefighters. Her husband had filed for divorce—a week after she lost her job, the same day she was diagnosed with diabetes. Then her best friend moved away. Now Dorothy was caring for both her aging parents while paying a divorce lawyer way more than she (or her retirement account) could afford. “I’m not sure I can go on,” she told me. “Why is all this happening at once?” “Well,” I said, “according to probability theory, random events can run in streaks. It’s like patterned disorder, and in nature it creates beautiful things.” Dorothy looked as though I’d poured mouse droppings into her coffee. “That’s your explanation? My […]

The Village Where You’ll Thrive…Wisdom from Martha

A bunch of us coaches gathered recently to run workshops for some corporate friends (you know who you are, folks, and it was a joy to have you here). Afterward we gathered in a circle under a big tree to share everything we’d learned from our coaching. We got fixated on the concept of “village building.” We’re living in the time of gathering, when individualism—summed up in the phrase “self help”—doesn’t work as well as helping one another. Villages are forming within larger societies through long-distance travel and communication. For instance, I think of my website and social media platforms as a village where you all can meet, communicate, and offer mutual support. So how do you build a village that serves and helps you? We ended up concluding that there are four components. (For you coaches, these phases map to the four squares of change.) First, a village must […]

How to Stand Up for Yourself

If Nu Nu had been bigger than a doorknob, someone would have shot him. He was like a tiny chain saw with fur, a snarling, fang-baring nightmare of a Chihuahua who viciously attacked anyone brave enough or crazy enough to go near him. Tina Madden, Nu Nu’s owner, was as saintly as he was diabolical. She never sank to Nu Nu’s level by reprimanding, much less punishing, him. She simply showered him with love and tenderness, believing that taking the high road would eventually dissolve Nu Nu’s wrath. I’ve had clients who took a similar “high road” approach with difficult people in their lives. For example, Yvette stayed politely silent when a coworker, Fred, brazenly stole her ideas. Janae cleaned up pizza boxes and drinking glasses left by her college-age daughter, Emily, as uncomplainingly as she’d once changed Emily’s dirty diapers. And Cynthia and Rob’s romance was based on lots […]

Freedom from Fixed Ideas…Wisdom from Martha

Almost every client I’ve ever coached, including multi-millionaires, has been worried about money. Everyone’s after the magic that will pop abundance into their bank accounts. Often, that magic is hideously oversimplified, boiled down to ridiculous magical thinking. On the other hand, everything I’ve observed in decades of coaching and observation tells me that there really is a process—subtle and far from obvious, but real—that draws wealth to some people, and almost seems to snatch it away from others. I’ve spent enormous amounts of time pondering this, thinking of all the people I’ve coached, trying different processes myself. Recently, I realized that I’d formed a subconscious conclusion—one that surprised me. In my experience, two things combine to enable financial success. No, they are not family wealth and the ability to cook blue meth. They are freedom from fixed ideas and attention to inner guidance. The first element is one very few […]

Lame Animal Totem: Millipede

I know we’d all love to have a porcupine that jumps around and seems to flee from invisible foes as our spirit animal, but that’s just too bad—you can’t always get what you want. This month’s Lame Animal Totem is the millipede…specifically the kind captured by ring-tailed lemurs, who squeeze the millipedes until they exude a poisonous liquid. The lemurs rub the millipede venom on their fur, then stagger around with glazed eyes, foaming happily at the mouth. They carefully release the millipedes back into the wild to continue doing what millipedes do best: producing more venom and having feet. Many, many feet. If your spirit animal is the millipede, no one likes you. Some people may appear friendly, but they just want to goad you into doing that thing you do, so that they can send you away, rub each other’s backs, and gossip about your toxicity. Use millipede […]

Body Truth, Mind Lie: How to Make the Right Decision

Five minutes into our session, Claire dissolved in tears. “I’m so exhausted from making decisions!” she said. Claire did have a lot on her plate. Her boyfriend, Mike, had proposed to her (she loved him but said he was often impatient, so she wasn’t sure he was The One). She was looking for a new home (an apartment, actually, in case things with Mike went south) but hadn’t found the perfect place. And she was desperate to quit her boring job, but was still in the process of zeroing in on a better one. It all sounded normal until we started discussing time frames. “Impatient” Mike had been waiting almost four years for Claire’s answer to his proposal. Claire had been house hunting for three of those years. And her career indecision? Almost a decade old. Claire’s exhaustion didn’t spring from making decisions; it came from not deciding—from vacillating, fretting, […]

The Magic Created Just for You

Every year, before I go to Londolozi, South Africa, for our annual Self Transformation Adventure Retreats (STARs), I expect magical things to happen. When I get there I always panic—Holy crap, I’ve promised something I can’t possibly create. Will the magical things arrive? And every year, they do. This year—whew!—was no exception. I watched our STARlings create magic for themselves, and I watched Africa embrace them, and it was awesome. But right now I’ll just tell you something that happened to me, me, ME, because as Nisargadatta Maharaj once half-joked, “God is doing all of this for me.” Before leaving for Africa, I went to my favorite bird-watching store in San Luis Obispo and bought a fabulous hat. It was made in Canada, with straps both in front and behind (I challenge any of you to wear anything half so dorky). Three weeks into my Africa stay, I was sitting […]