Entries by Martha Beck

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

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 […]

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

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 […]

Lame Animal Totem: Gnu

Compared to former Lame Animal Totems, such as the blobfish, this month’s winner is downright fetching. Compared to most animals, however, it is not. I speak of the the gnu (wildebeest), an antelope that looks as if it were assembled by a committee of people deeply angry at each other, and which could not win a battle of wits with a cantaloupe. If wildebeest is your totem, you wield the awesome power of extreme awkwardness and profound stupidity combined. Use gnu energy at parties, driving others away from your favorite foods with your honking voice, lack of focus, and random, frightening bursts of sprinting. As a gnu person you should party often, because you’ll probably die young. No worries, though; you’ll leave behind approximately four hundred descendants. Your funeral will be a poignant festival of honking, butting, and sprinting into walls, though none of your descendants will be bright enough […]

The New “No Normal”

I remember how relieved I was when I first heard someone say, “This is the new normal.” I was always trying to resist change, and I’d never, ever succeeded. The idea of a “new normal” allowed me to relax, no longer fighting pointlessly against the continuous change that is reality. Recently, though, I’ve had to update the concept “new normal.” Change has gotten so incredibly zippy and sustained that it’s pretty obvious the only “new normal” possible anymore is “no normal.” Now, the word “normal” comes from the Latin “norma,” meaning a carpenter’s square (not to be confused with “norma rae,” meaning a small feisty union leader). “Normal” things conform to precise measurements and angles. They’re consistent. Predictable. Just like…pretty much nothing that will ever happen to you from now on. Take the weather. Please. Meteorologists were onto global warming when I was a kid, but no one predicted the […]