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Category: Mindfulness

Music in Mindfulness and Everyday Life

I was on a podcast recently, Mindfulness Mode with Bruce Langford. I wanted to post it here on the blog because he did an amazing job of getting me to articulate some things that I’ve struggled to say in the past. (Thank you Bruce!)

In particular, this would may be helpful for people who have struggled with addiction, but we also get into the idea of nurturing that feeling of connection in business, marketing, and performing.

There’s lot’s great stuff on his website – he’s been at this for a long time.

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Practicing Mindfulness While Making Coffee

I like to practice being in the present moment as much as possible, but I hate just sitting there, trying to think about nothing. I’d much rather turn daily mundane activities, like making coffee, into a sort of meditation.

It took me 3 takes to make this video without laughing! I know, it’s a bit exaggerated and ridiculous, but this is all just to make a point. If you even did half of what I did in this video, you’ll get something out of it.

And the bloopers …

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What if My Job Was to Be Present?

My job is to cradle this cup of coffee with both hands and gently bring it to my lips, feeling every drop as it warms my insides.

My job is to bask in the glow of my tingling skin as the balmy breeze strokes my hair.

My job is to breathe in the air that invigorates my entire body, carrying nutrients to feed my soul.

My job is to run and play like a wild fawn.

My job is to be myself and unashamedly express who I am.

My job is to create the things that I want to exist in the world – art, music, ideas, and objects.

My job is to experience each moment without judgement, letting it all wash over me like a wave, knowing that the changing motions of the tide are part of life.

My job is to wash the dishes with passion, turning the scrubbing into a spiritual practice

My job is to vacuum with appreciation, knowing how many people came together to design and build just the plastic handle that I push against to clean the carpet that I’m grateful to be standing on.

My job is to type a message to another person, focusing on their needs, knowing that my own will be taken care of.

My job is to learn how to stay in the moment, to practice meditation, to bring awareness to my inner body and avoid getting swept away by random thoughts.

My job is to practice connecting with other people, putting effort into staying present in all conversations and activities. 

My job is to get better at living.

Not by mastering money so that I can retire young and consume more, but by learning to experience joy and peace in every moment regardless of the circumstances.

If I make all of these things my job, then those other activities needed to actually pay the bills become infused with new power and inspiration.

When I get paid to scrub the toilet at the restaurant, I’m fully present and grateful, knowing that better things are ahead.

When I get paid to assemble components at the manufacturing plant, I’m inspired with ideas to improve the process and my mind starts to put the pieces together on how I can either be promoted or start my own business.

When I get paid to answer the phone for the insurance company, my infectious attitude makes everyone around me smile, attracting opportunities and possibilities into my life.

When I’m on a roof getting paid to bang nails into shingles, I feel connected to the other workers. I’m part of a team working toward a common goal, with a sense of purpose.

When I’m constantly writing, baring my soul, and feeling vulnerable because it seems no one is reading it – then I get an email from one person who thanks me and tells me how I helped them – and I know it’s worth continuing.

We all have so much power – more than we realize.

We can change the way we perceive what happens around us and to us. By doing the little things we are already doing with more presence, with intention, and love, new opportunities start to appear. 

So, I say make it your job to be present, and everything else gets better.

Header image “Free Air” by Heather Prescott Liebensohn a.k.a. Omega Defern at Zen Mantis Video & Photography

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You Just Don’t Have It Yet

“You just don’t have it yet.” That sentence came from the mouth of legendary drummer and producer Steve Jordan – who was in the Saturday Night Live and David Letterman bands, and played with John Mayer, among many others. I heard Steve interviewed by Rick Beato recently, and this one line just hit me. It describes the creative journey perfectly. 

I was 21 when I wrote my first song. I had been playing guitar for years in cover bands, but I found myself in a situation which required something truly special. I needed to get my girlfriend to come back to me! I was so excited that I was able to channel my emotions into a real song, with lyrics and all! But, it wasn’t very good, and I didn’t get the girl. Although I got something better – the bug for songwriting.

Since then, I’ve probably written hundreds of songs, most of them garbage, but that’s ok – I was learning the craft, and enjoying myself along the way. After 20 years of playing in different bar and wedding bands while working day jobs, thinking some opportunity would just fall out of the sky, I decided it was finally time to confront the truth about my abilities as a writer. So I, with my wife and our three kids picked up and moved to Nashville. (Heather, my wife, is a songwriter too, so it wasn’t hard to convince her)

Heather and I had already put out an album which some people REALLY liked. Not everybody, but enough to plant a few seeds of hope. We had visited Nashville, and it seemed like the perfect size city – not like New York or L.A. – and had a super welcoming community of musicians. But, ultimately it was a little bar called Douglas Corner Cafe that sold us.  

It’s closed down now, another casualty of the pandemic, but every Tuesday night they had an open mic that down here they call a “writer’s round” (some venues, like The Bluebird, arrange the musicians in an actual circle, which is where round comes from.) To play at Douglas Corner, all you had to do was call into their old fashioned answering machine at 1pm and leave your name. Each week at 12:55 we hit the phones, calling nonstop – dial, busy signal, hang up. dial, busy signal, hang up – like we were trying to win Springsteen tickets from a radio station. The trick was to get on early while more people were in the audience.

Local legend, Donnie Winters, ran the open mic for years. After he did his sound check and went over the ground rules, he started calling people up. I was almost always nervous. Playing and singing my own songs without a band to a packed room was not something I was used to! The stage was set up with four stools and microphone stands, with beautiful blue hazy lighting. The front half had rows of tables and chairs for the serious listeners, and the rear was where the bar and networking took place. In Nashville, it’s all about co-writing, and this was the kind of place to meet other musicians you might have a connection with.

I remember this one particular Tuesday night when I was feeling especially good. Rather than my regular, “man I don’t want to do this, but I have to push through it,” I was cool, calm, and present. I was in the moment. Maybe because I knew I had a good song prepared, and because I had been taking voice lessons (Breck Alan’s and The Art of Body Singing is LIFE CHANGING for singer songwriters in particular, because he’s all about playing your voice like an instrument instead of just hitting notes). Donnie called four names and I went up on stage, plugged in my guitar, adjusted my mic, and waited patiently for my turn. I sang my song, “Oklahoma.” It’s a heavy song, recounting the great lengths I went to in my early attempts at sobriety. I felt like I had a good performance, and the audience applauded. I didn’t get any hooting and hollering, but it felt like a genuine reaction. You can feel the room when people are paying attention. And I knew I had them. But, it wasn’t until I got off stage that I realized how well it went over.

A few people stopped me to shake my hand on my way to the back of the room. My adrenaline was turning into a headache and I wanted to get away from everybody for a minute. Just before I walked into the Men’s Room, this guy pulled me aside and said, “Man, that song really hit me. I have a brother who is on drugs, who I haven’t seen in years. That song just made me feel something I hadn’t felt in a long, long time.” I’m not great at taking compliments, but I gave him a sincere and hearty “thank you” and kept moving. Later on I realized how amazing that compliment was, and my insides began to blissfully jump up and down.

It’s interesting how music works. Oklahoma wasn’t a happy song. It didn’t make that guy happy, but it did stir something in his heart. Emotion – to be “in motion”. I think sometimes we just need to get our cold hearts moving again in whatever way possible. Maybe he just needed to feel a connection with someone who understands.

Back to the interview with Steve Jordan. The story he was telling was about a Rod Stewart track he was working on. They were trying to get the sound right, and it just wasn’t happening. Someone walked in and gave him some encouragement, “You just don’t have it yet. It’s alright, it’s alright, you just don’t have it YET.” So they kept tweaking things, and eventually, by moving one of the drum microphones just a few inches … BAM! It all came together. You see, I spent decades thinking I had to get good enough to go on stage in the first place, but I realized the stage is a critical part in the development process. If I wanted to get really good, to become a professional, I needed to get real world feedback, and not fool myself about how good I think I am.

Open mic nights are the perfect place to try out material, to see what works and what doesn’t. I’ve watched enough Jerry Seinfeld documentaries to know that most comics “practice” their new acts at small clubs. I’m trying to get a reaction – not just a courtesy applause, but for someone to come up to me afterward and say, “I really loved that song.” If no one does that in a room full of people, how would I expect to get the attention of random people out on the internet? And if no one responds, that doesn’t mean I should quit, it just means I just don’t have it YET.

Music is about evoking a human reaction. You never know who is going to respond to what song. So, the secret, if there is one, is to keep writing and keep testing. Find out what works, and treat the people who love your stuff as if they are your soulmates.

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Wait, People Love Me When I’m Awkward?

How I overcome business meeting anxiety by being honest and vulnerable

I’m driving along the Housatonic River on route 34 toward Newtown, trying to enjoy the newly changing leaves – the reds, oranges and yellows hanging down over the road on a sunny fall morning – but, all I can think about is what I’m gonna say at this networking meeting that starts in an hour. 

I stop to grab a bacon, egg and cheese – and another coffee, before getting onto Interstate 84 West. I’m on my way to a hotel in Danbury (CT) for a BNI meeting. That’s an acronym for Business Networking International, a group of business owners and salespeople who get together each week to trade referrals, and help each other meet potential prospects. I had been to meetings like this before, many times in fact. I like the structure of it, compared to the more general cocktail hour type networking. But what is causing me anxiety is the fact that I’m gonna have to stand up and give my elevator pitch to a room of 20 or 30 people. I’ve done it probably a hundred times, but I’m still afraid.

Too much coffee. You’d think I would have learned by now that all that caffeine probably doesn’t help my anxiety. But, the little comforts – the food, drink, and snacks before and after the meeting are what get me through. (I had given up all of the other, much stronger vices.)

There I am, cruising down the highway in my Honda Civic, loudly reciting my commercial, competing to hear myself against the loud rumble of the tires at 70MPH. I have some notes. I had tweaked a few things from last week’s pitch, thinking THESE words will get people to react, and get them to come running up to me afterward and say, “Oh Mike, you are so awesome! YES, sign me up! YES, I want to pay you lots of money to make a video for my business!”

That’s how I thought.

I had been struggling to keep enough customers coming through the door to pay the bills to feed my family, and I was in a perpetual state of desperation, for years – seeking out the right words that would finally open up the floodgates. I was searching for a holy grail to solve all of my financial problems. I was determined to write a magic elevator pitch. 

Was I trying to build relationships?  No.

Was I trying to make friends? No.

It was all a con job. What can I say to these people, to get what I want.

Of course, I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I’m actually a really nice guy! I love helping people, and when I’m working to produce a video project, I make it all about them, and it’s all about authenticity. But when in “sales mode”, I seem to get my wires all tangled and crossed.

Is it any wonder I was full of anxiety heading into this meeting?

There was so much riding on it! I was emotionally charged with such high expectations. I NEEDED to make a sale. 

Then it was time to start the meeting. Ten minutes of announcements, explaining how things work, and leadership introductions. Blah blah blah. They start going around the room. The tables are set up in a rectangular circle, with everyone sitting, facing in. 

“I’m Joe Johnson, and my company is called Circle Box HVAC. We specialize in ….”

My heart is pounding.

“Good morning, I’m Davey with Floyd & Kramer Law Firm, did you know that 1 out of 10 car accidents result in a ….”

My palms are sweaty. I try to dry them on my legs.

“DON’T BUY ANOTHER BOX OF BUSINESS CARDS! (most exuberantly) Until you talk to my team at Hour-Man Press! We have an amazing deal, just for the month of October – a real spooky deal! Go to our website at www dot ….”

It’s getting closer to my turn. My hands shake as I open up my folded cheat sheet to refresh my memory about what I’m going to say.  

“Just a reminder,” the group leader interrupts. “Visitors will go after all the regular members do their commercials.”

I’m slightly relieved – they skip over me, for now.

Then something happens. Over the next 10 minutes, as each other person stands up to speak, I suddenly become very present, hanging onto each word being said.

I stopped thinking about what I was going to say, stopped calculating, and looked around the room. I noticed that there are a bunch of real people to my right and to my left. I’m sitting elbow to elbow with other PEOPLE – human beings.

They were all little kids once. I thought about my own kids. Many of these folks are probably scared too. Actually, I can see it now. The HVAC guy, with his logo-embroidered Dickies button-down shirt and blue jeans, seemed kinda nervous. You could tell he’s wasn’t used to being in meetings like this. He probably spends the majority of his time working by himself in basements and attics. 

I can feel my pulse slow down. It was as if someone had let the air out of the stress balloon I had been blowing up all morning.

I realized in that moment of clarity, that perhaps I had been doing it all wrong. When I work with people during a video shoot, it’s all about being in the moment with them, just having a real, spontaneous, and heartfelt conversation. Unscripted. Then why did I think I need to put on a dog and pony show for these nice people? I wasn’t there to entertain, to give a stand-up comedy show. I was there to be of service, to attract the right customers into my business, who value and need what I have. And what I have to sell is ME. So why not give them ME? 

It’s my turn. I stand up. 

“Good morning.” Deep breath. “My name is Mike, and I really appreciate you letting me come and visit this morning. I’m sorry … I’m a little nervous. I wanted to try and say the exact right thing, so I could make a good first impression … and I’ve making myself crazy all morning thinking about it. Does anyone else ever do that?”

I scan the room. People are nodding, and I get some smiles and chuckles. I can feel the energy as they start to lean in.

I continued on for a minute or so, sharing what I love about what I do for a living, then I sat back down. My neighbor to my right gave an encouraging “good job”. After the meeting was over, a few people came up to me and asked for a business card. One person was extremely interested, “Hi Mike! I just love your authenticity. I think you are exactly who I’ve been looking for to do my video project.”

So, I threw away the script, and let go all control. I was completely honest and vulnerable – and I had one of the most effective networking experiences EVER. I felt connected to people. Hell, I think I even enjoyed it! And I got a new client. 

People don’t want me to be perfect. That’s not real. Perfection is for glamour magazines and slick movies. In business, it’s all about relationships. It’s about people. Something happened to me that day, that I hope I’ll never forget. When I’m in the moment, not in my head, and I allow the words to just come out in whatever uncontrolled awkward fashion they’re meant to come out in, it’s almost as if I tap into an unseen power – an energy that connects me with other people – that helps me go places I can’t normally go.

It’s not about the specific words I say. It’s about one soul communicating with another.

And it’s surprisingly easy to tap into – I just need to be OK with not knowing exactly how it’s gonna go, and remain present and vulnerable. (The old way, trying to control things wasn’t working anyway!)

Header image of a fawn at Silverman’s Farm by Heather Prescott Liebensohn


14 Days to a Quieter Mind

Have you tried coaching, self help books, and seminars – and were not satisfied with the results? Try this first.

So many of us fail to make positive changes in our lives and business, because our minds are so full of negative self talk, that we get it our own way. It’s like pouring water into an already overflowing glass. We need to slow down and make some space. Try our free 14 day email series “14 Days to a Quieter Mind” first, then go back to coaching and self help, with a more empty cup.

Click here to find out more about our 14 Days free email series

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Blocked by the Voice in My Head

Breaking free from my self imposed mental prison

We moved to Shelton when I was in 7th grade. Middle school was already tough, and now I was the new kid starting in a new place, midway through the year.

I was mortified by the Puma sneakers my mom made me wear, because they weren’t Nike or Reebok, like everyone else had. I thought to myself, no one will like me because I’m not wearing the right sneakers. I didn’t talk to the people at the bus stop and kept to myself at school, because in my mind, they wouldn’t like me – so I beat them to it by not liking them first.

Then in high school, I was obsessed with losing weight because I saw all the pretty, popular kids having a good time. I obsessively created endless checklists to eat less and exercise more. Instead of looking for friends to enjoy lunch with, I sat by myself with a salad, telling myself, I’ll be happy someday. Once I get through this, I’ll have lots of friends.

In my twenties, I was in a rock band playing out in bars around New Haven. We were pretty good, and the other guys were really into it – but my internal dialogue was always focused on the negative: people aren’t paying attention and no one wants to listen to us, and I can’t wait until this is over. (Wasn’t that supposed to be fun?)

The truth is, I was NEVER happy where I was.

Was someone trying to sabotage my life? (Yes, me.)

Apparently, I didn’t want to be anywhere, so drugs became more appealing. I was aiming for happiness, but settled for getting numb. Eventually, I couldn’t function without both cocaine and heroin – every day.

I was in a dark and hopeless place, where my entire existence consisted of working to buy drugs, up until the point where no amount of drugs was enough to drown out the guilt, shame, and remorse I was feeling, caused by that lifestyle. Then … when I could go no further – I hit bottom.

I desperately cried out for help, and something snapped inside. I woke up. I became self-aware like never before.

Suddenly, it was clear that what I had been looking for was not “out there.” There wasn’t some magic job, girl, or bank account that would make me happy. I needed to find peace on the inside.

With the help of some amazing people and the 12 steps, I started to question every thought that popped into my head. I saw the lies – all that crap about me not being good enough, and not being worthy of love and friendship. Says who? I could see how all the stories I had been telling myself, about myself, were blocking me off from everything good.

The most critical moment was when I realized that I was neither my mind or my body, that there was this other thing – an awareness, that could see everything from an outside perspective. That awareness was the real me.

For the first time, I was able to dis-identify with the voice in my head.

The more I was able to step back and observe my thoughts, the more they slowed down, and I began to feel connected to everything around me. I was able to experience moments of presence, of just being right where my feet are, enjoying whatever was going on. You hear that? JOY! This was the happiness thing I had seen all those other people doing.

I could plainly see how that little voice in my head is not always right, and I became free.

Today, 15 years later, I’m still sober and I’ve never lost that essential awareness. But I need to constantly make a decision to NOT engage with every single thought that pops into my head (which can still be very difficult). But, without fail, when I follow one moment to the next, without giving in to that nagging desire to control everything through over-planning and worrying, amazing things happen. Inspired action happens. Luck happens. Synchronicity. God moments. Whatever you want to call it … things are overwhelmingly better for me when I’m present.

It’s like I now have access to power that I didn’t have before. It was always there, I just had to make space for it.

How we experience life comes down to perception, right? We see things happening around us, but we get to assign meaning to it. Is it good or is it bad? For most things, it depends how you look at it.

Thoughts happen. I can’t stop them. But, when I’m awake – aware – I can see them coming, and decide which ones to listen to.

How would your life change if you stepped away from your thoughts once and a while, looked back and said, “nope – that one’s bullshit. I’m gonna ignore that one.”


You’re probably thinking, how can I get to this place of awakening? Is suffering a requirement? For me, it took a crisis to wake me up. But, you may get there with just a little practice. Mindfulness is like a muscle – the more you use it, the more it grows. Here are a few things to try: Pretend you’re the Karate Kid, swatting thoughts away (remember, wax on, wax off … we’ve been watching Cobra Kai on Netflix!) You can say to yourself, “I wonder what my next thought will be?” then wait – see how long you can go. One of my favorites: all throughout your day, especially during conversations, occasionally push your foot firmly down against the floor to remind yourself to stay in the moment, to be where your feet are, and not drift into random thought. By shining a light on your thoughts, they start to slow down. Start by making a little space up there in your head, and more will be revealed.

Header image artwork “Rainbow” by Abigail Liebensohn, courtesy of Zen Mantis


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The Journey From Technical To Emotional

How I finally learned to be a proper rock star

My first experience playing guitar in front of people was a little like downloading a program then double-clicking the icon, or inserting a floppy disk then typing RUN into the command prompt, for those of you from my generation. What I’m trying to say is, my performance was as if someone strapped a guitar to a robot – it had no emotion.

The year was 1992, and Shelton High School was about to have it’s first “Rock Festival”, organized by our beloved music teacher, Ms Dziamba. There were many audition tapes submitted, but only 5 or 6 bands were chosen to perform – and I was in one of them!

We were called The Prions, based on something random we picked out of a biology book. Randy was on bass, I played guitar, and Robb sang. We would get together and eat pizza, drink cases of soda, and write ridiculous songs. Our collective influences included Iron Maiden, Primus, Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa, and of course, it was the 90’s – Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

But now we had a gig to prepare for, the perfect excuse to start taking things more seriously. We needed a drummer, so I began courting Brandon, who I knew from the marching band (where I played bari sax.) He wasn’t interested at first, but eventually I got him – with a china cymbal – which we would need for our opening song, Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnson.

I’d been obsessed with learning this song since the transcription appeared in one of the monthly guitar magazines. It was just the right combination of extremely hard to play with a hooky melody – perfect to show off a little for the people at school – to show ’em what I got!

I was a shy kid, completely wrapped up inside myself, in my own little world, as a means of survival. It was hard for me to connect with other people, because I was full of fear and anxiety. My plan was to put myself out there, literally, on a stage, hoping that I might attract some attention, then people would approach ME to be friends. 

After months of prep and rehearsals, we were ready. We even wrote an original song (mostly Robb did), called Turn Away.

It was finally show time. 

The energy that night was insane. I could feel electricity in the air, the unruly crowd of teenagers in the audience, the hum of the amplifiers, the rah rah of the other bands and the crew pumping us up as we strutted toward the stage to plug in and prepare for takeoff. 

I tested my amp … false start. Total amateur move. I was shaking and so nervous. My bare feet were sticking to my brown boat shoes.

I plunged right in, starting the intro to Cliffs of Dover, with its heroic 16th note runs, all by myself, alone. I might as well have been naked, standing at the edge of the stage, looking out into the dark abyss of the auditorium, knowing the discerning eyes of my peers were sitting just below me. Then, just as the rest of the band joined in, the hot lights came on. Red, blue and yellow gels lit us up like a Pink Floyd concert. And, there was a fiery white spotlight pointed right at ME. Holy shit.

I kept going, Randy was stage left, just eating it up. He had done this before. Brandon was up on a riser, doing his best Neil Peart impression, banging on the $70 cymbal I bribed him with. I paced around a little, back and forth, as I played. Then, in anticipation of the main hook of the song, I moved closer to the edge where the front monitors were, thinking I was really getting into it. Later on, I watched the video one of the parents made with their camcorder, and saw the truth – that I was just standing there, barely alive … fingers moving, but looking down at the guitar, with no emotion, no enthusiasm, and no excitement.

When the song was over, after a minor flub in the last crazy fast guitar run, everyone cheered. That applause was really cool, but MUST CONTINUE! Robb ran out to join us, waving his arms like a maniac – he was the perfect front man. We started The Evil That Men Do by Iron Maiden (according to Randy, that was the ideal choice because it was more “pop” than Infinite Dreams.) We also played Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd (which included Jim Russell on guitar), a Pearl Jam song, and Smells Like Teen Spirit

When it was all over, we walked off, and I was on top of the world – it was such a rush … to be done with it! There, I checked all the boxes; the computer program had ended. For the most part it went to plan, with only a few minor errors. People seemed to like it. I got some nice compliments the next day at school, which was my goal, but nothing really changed. I did not go on to become class president.

The band carried on for a while, with different line-ups. After high school and college, Randy and I re-tooled and created a Beatles inspired band. We became very interested in songwriting, thinking we might be just be the next Lennon and McCartney. We called ourselves The Trumen, and started playing out at bars around West Haven. One time we even played at a school dance. 

Well, the band broke up, as they say. If I’m honest, it was all my fault. I was dealing with demons of the drug and alcohol variety, which unfortunately consumed most of the next 10 years. Part of what fueled my need to escape reality was a longing to have a life in music, but not having the self-esteem and confidence to really go for it. I was in many bands, had many jobs, lived in many states, and even worked at a recording studio for a while, trying to find my way, but I just couldn’t make it work. I couldn’t make anything work. Apparently, what I was looking for was not “out there” ( … it was inside.)

Long story, short – I finally woke up, cleaned up, got married, had kids, and got on a path of recovery and self-awareness. 

I began to see my past and present from a new perspective. Life got better in so many ways, but music was still in a weird place for me. Why is it that, even though I was technically a really good player, I was unable to successfully express my feelings through music? There was certainly no lack of emotion, I was an emotional roller coaster!

Through the 12 steps, meditation, and slowing down my mind a little, I started noticing how I had a habit of hammering away at songs, treating the notes like they were a bunch of 1’s and 0’s in a computer program waiting to be executed. This was nothing new, but now I could see it happening – I was aware. It seemed that playing each riff perfectly, the way I had heard it on the record was all that mattered, that each song was just a means to an end, a check box. So, I decided to change. I started learning songs to the point of muscle memory, then when it came time to perform, I’d show up and just try to be in the moment, without thinking. I made progress, but still had a long way to go.

My wife Heather and I started writing songs together. Once the kids were old enough to use the bathroom on their own, we recorded an album with some amazing players at Carriage House Studios in Stamford CT. We played some shows, but I was still uncomfortable around other people, and had difficulty channeling my emotions into the music, but I knew I was getting closer. Time went by …. getting even closer. Until …

One of the best nights of my life was playing to a packed room at Cafe 9 in New Haven. They weren’t there to see us, we were the opening band – but that was ok. I don’t know what got into me, but from the start I was completely in the moment, in the zone, totally enveloped by the experience. During our set, I was moving around, interacting with my band-mates, smiling, even dancing a little, connecting with the audience – filled with enthusiasm AND emotion! THIS is what it’s all about, the feeling I had been looking for all my life! The songs, my voice, the guitar – they were just vehicles to allow me to experience the moment. I knew how and what to play without thinking about it. I was fully alive, like a fish swimming from note to note. I saw opportunities to express emotion (energy) in each stretched-out vowel of a vocal phrase, or slow drawn-out bend of the 8th fret on the B string. It was that place within the notes, the gray area in between, that allowed me to insert my true self. Everything that had been bottled up was suddenly, beautifully released in a way that freed me and fed the audience. 

So, what had changed?

I transitioned from technical to emotional – from computer to human. I was present, vulnerable, and enthusiastic. 

It turns out that authenticity and humanity are what moves an audience, not how fast I can play Cliffs of Dover.

Performing is fun now, because there’s no longer all that pressure to “do it right”. When I walk out on stage, I’m there to interpret and express the song, the way I see it. I don’t need to sound like Eric Clapton or Marvin Gaye. I can give them MY version. If I’m honest and authentic, and not overthinking things, I can’t go wrong. Because there is no wrong! This is art! Whatever is supposed to come out, comes out, and the right people will gladly receive it. 

Finally, perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned, that I’m embarrassed to say because it seems so obvious – is this: if I’m having a good time, so will the audience.

Header image of Parkway South at Cafe Nine in New Haven, CT by Sherry Lynn Photography


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Sausage, Pancakes & Suffering for No Reason

Is it good? Is it bad? I get to decide

Heather is more well-adjusted to life than I am. A lot more. And these days I’m remarkably and painfully aware, noticing when my thoughts and emotions seem to be out of line, when it appears that I’m overreacting – especially when we are experiencing the same exact situations. I’ll often look over at her and say, “Why is this bothering ME so much, when you seem just fine?” It has taken MANY years just to get to the point where I’m questioning my own reactions, wondering if there’s a better way. (The old me didn’t even know what he didn’t know.)

“They’re just facts.” she said. “I just don’t let them bother me.” 

“Ok, I get that intellectually,” I said, “but, it still makes me crazy.”

Earlier that morning, the last Sunday in August, we slept late – like teenager late, 10:30. Although nothing compared to my old hangover sleep-in’s, which lasted until early afternoon, this is very uncommon for parents with 3 young kids and an idiot dog.

It was fine, we’ve had a long week of early mornings, and didn’t have any time sensitive plans for the day, but still, that voice in my head was beating me up: “what the hell, Mike, you’ve wasted half the day … I can’t believe YOU did THIS!” What was also fueling my misery is the sad realization that now I’m old enough to snap, crackle and pop trying to get out of bed after sleeping too long, nothing like the more ‘enjoyable’ muscle ache that comes after working out (which it couldn’t be, because that was 3 days ago!)

Jacob, our autistic 9 year old, had already barged into our bedroom at least 4 times (that I can remember), asking if it was ok to turn on the TV … sure, yes, then it continues …

Is it ok to play on the computer? Yes. 

Is it ok if I make a waffle. YES.

When are you gonna get up and plug in the (Nintendo) Switch? GET OUT!!!

If only he had once told me what time it was, I probably would have gotten up.

So, Heather woke me up. No, not like that, but it was still nice to have her warm body pressed up against me, it slowed my overactive brain long enough to experience a little bit of gratitude before going into battle. Eventually, I got up and staggered down the hallway to see Jacob and Abby, his twin, playing with one of the phones –  and my nemesis, Bowie the 2 year old German Shepherd Dog was still locked away in his crate.

“What the hell! How long have you all been up? Why is BOWIE still in his CRATE!!!” I screamed.

Jacob ran over to let him out. He knew he screwed up. He had been briefed many times about letting the dog out if he was the first one awake.

“JJ, that doesn’t matter now, just … just put down the phone and go to your room,” I said, “and you too Abby.”

I was so pissed.

I don’t even like the damn dog, but for some reason it bothered me that he was in that cage for so many hours, all night, all morning, probably with an overflowing bladder.

Why was I so mad? Because I care about the dog? Because I didn’t want to clean up the mess if he had an accident? Because I think the kids are disrespecting me? Because I’ve failed as a parent, because my kids, my 9 YEAR OLDS aren’t properly and responsibly following my directions? (that was meant to be sarcastic)

I looked over at Heather. She was oblivious, in her own little world, doing Heather things, enjoying the attractions in Heather-Land. I was so freaking jealous.

Not a word. I’ve learned when to just keep my thoughts to myself to not incite an argument with my wife, especially first thing in the morning. So, I started cooking sausage and pancakes, from scratch – not for THEM, but for me! That’s right, to hell with them.

“Is Stephanie awake yet?” I said to Heather. It’s now nearly 11AM, and our 14 year old is nowhere to be found. If SHE wants the damn dog, maybe she should wake up early to take care of him, like a farmer’s daughter would have to wake up and feed the chickens and milk the cows.

I started pouring out the flower, just grinding my thoughts away, stewing in my anger. I added the baking powder, sugar, salt, making a little well in the middle to pour in the milk. Abby loves doing this part, but I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction this morning. That’s right, I’ll show those little shits the wrath of my passive aggressiveness!

“How long do we have to stay in our room?” Jacob yells from down the hall.

I shouted back, “How long was Bowie in his crate this morning? About 3 hours?”

I was slicing up the sausage, mad at the pans, mad at the kitchen, and feeling like everything sucks. Just look at the cabinets, all falling apart. And the dust on top of the stove, do I have to do everything around here? Now I was caught up thinking ahead to what else had to be done that day, lamenting my endless pile of tasks, the necessity of checking them all off, just so I can go to sleep then get up and do it all over again in the morning.

What happened to the gratitude of my half naked wife laying in bed with me just a half hour ago?

Just then I became aware that I was violently spinning inside a negative thought vortex, and was able to step out of it for a moment.

“Why does this bother me so much?” I said to Heather.

“I don’t know. They’re just kids.” she said.

And just like that, the icy meanness seemed to melt, and I told Stephanie, who had suddenly appeared, to get the twins and tell them breakfast is ready.

What are the facts of that morning’s events? We overslept, and JJ forgot to let the dog out of his crate. Period. All that suffering I went through was on me. I told myself a horrible story about how my family is plotting to ruin my day, but it was all bullshit. 

I get to decide how I interpret what is happening around me – is it good or is it bad – I get to decide. But only if I’m awake enough to notice.


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What I Learned Selling Cars

How to sell by being vulnerable and present

About 15 years ago I was selling cars at Hoffman in East Hartford, CT. It was one of the many dealerships right on Connecticut Blvd, in the shadows of interstates 91, 84 and route 2. They had Ford, Lexus, Porsche, Audi – but I worked at the Saab / Oldsmobile store. What a combo, right? Saab and Oldsmobile! Don’t they just go together like peanut butter and broccoli?  

This would be the first time I’d try to make a living without doing physical labor, although walking up and down the length of the car lot in black pointed dress shoes that don’t quite fit IS laborious.

I had answered an ad in the CT Post where they promised training and a job, for only $300 bucks. What a deal! (after wasting thousands to go to UCONN, only to drop out and spend the next 5 years pulling wires through nasty crawlspaces and fiberglass insulation sticky hot attics) – So, I was excited about a change of pace, and this car sales thing was just what I needed, partly because talking to people, especially the idea of selling, terrified me. I knew it was time to face that fear and work on myself, and I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.

They ran us – the new recruits – through a 2 day seminar style training, complete with workbooks and tests. I learned some basic tactics and procedures to sell cars, but it barely scratched the surface in terms of what I would need to really do this job successfully. Especially me. I was NOT a people person.

But, I was competent enough to memorize some scripts and follow directions.

“Hi, welcome to Hoffman. What kind of vehicle were you hoping to purchase today?” Then, the most important part, to gain control and avoid being dragged around the lot, test driving 10 different cars without a commitment, “before we get started, let’s talk a minute about what you’re looking for … follow me”. And the trick was to just turn around and expect them to follow, without waiting for their consent – just start walking.  

And that worked! But it felt very douchey.

I never wanted to be THAT kind of salesman. But, what did I think selling cars was going to be like? I knew the stereotype – hell, it runs in my family! My grandfather, my uncle, and a few cousins either owned small car lots or were somehow “in the business” all throughout my childhood. I remember hearing about how my mom drove a different car every week in high school, as John Pinto Auto Sales turned over stock. They were good people, but this is a tough business.

Well, I wanted to do things differently, and embrace the idea of being nice, real, and authentic, and just try to help people.

One of the other salesmen, Bob, worked at Saab with me. He has since passed away, a super good guy, always so relaxed. There was constant drama at our little store, sometimes behind closed doors, and often right out in the showroom, but Bob was Mr. Chill – and he was successful.

Bob had a stack of Joe Verde newsletters on his desk. I was drawn to them because of the big headlines promising advice and tips for selling more cars. Since I was growing a bit discontent as the shiny newness of my budding sales career wore off, reading this stuff got me fired up again!

I became very interested in the whole self-development thing. But it wasn’t about the tactics or the one-liners, it was the belief and mindset stuff that resonated with me. It became clear that the way I was meant just as much, if not more, than what I knew. How I showed up mattered. The way I felt inside made a difference in how effective I was. I started to become more self aware, and I loved that feeling of hope – that making little improvements in the way I think can drastically improve my life.

For the next couple years, that car sales experience turned out to be a master class in human nature. I got paid to talk to people, notice their reactions, and adjust. Sometimes they were happy and sometimes they yelled at me. (Car shopping brings out the worst in people, because everyone is afraid of getting screwed, and I can’t blame them!) But I knew why I took that job – why I was there. It wasn’t about selling cars, it was about me growing as a person. In a way it was like a boot camp.

Another guru I started listening to at the time was Zig Ziglar. His big thing was, “you can get what you want by helping enough people get what they want.” Huh … think less about me, and more about them? That seemed obvious, but it’s not easy to put into practice. True, I cared about other people, and I thought I was a good person, but that’s not the same as putting my own needs aside long enough to really see things from the other person’s perspective – to really listen to understand, not just waiting for my turn to talk.

That was the big lesson. Learning to be present with people, to see the human being, with all their hopes and fears, sitting eyeball to eyeball with me.

To this day, whenever I’m aware that I’m trying to manipulate and force my way through any situation, things rarely go well. But when I slow down, and allow myself to be vulnerable and let the moment be what it wants to be, I often make the sale.

So what happened, that caused me to “wake up”, so to speak? I have a theory. Because I put myself into a continuously uncomfortable situation, I was forced to take a look at myself in a new light. And I had no choice but to grow.


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A Cosmic Shift in Perspective

This one picture of the universe changed my perspective and has really made me start to appreciate my life more, even when things are not going so well – I still get to have this one of a kind experience. This video clip is from five years ago, so I look a little different without a beard and with less hair! (who has LESS hair when he was younger?)

I’ve been fascinated with pictures of space and the universe for a long time. I’m not exactly into astronomy, and I don’t know much about the planets and the constellations. For me, it’s more about perspective.

One day I was listening to The Howard Stern Show, of all places, when that general curiosity materialized into a very useful tool for coping with life. It also sparked what I now believe to be my life’s mission obsessing over what it means to live in the moment, and what true human connection feels like.

Howard was interviewing Judd Apatow. They were talking about Jerry Seinfeld. Apparently Jerry has a picture of the universe on the wall of his writing room that he uses to put things into perspective. In other words, what does any of this really matter when really we are just a speck on a speck on a grain of sand?

This resonated with me. Somehow contemplating the vastness of space and dwelling on how tiny and insignificant we are is strangely empowering and freeing. It’s been a slow gradual shift – sort of an awakening – to the idea that it’s not so much about conquering things and racking up successes, but more importantly, those things represent opportunities to experience life. That’s a complicated way to say it’s about the journey not the destination. But now I understand what that really means. It’s not just an overused proverb.

This speech marked the culmination of an amazing group improv class I took with Jenny & Ellen who now own The Bolder Company.

Also, check out this scale of the universe simulator, it’s so cool! Thanks to my friend Ed for sharing it with me.


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Do You Feel Like Life Is Passing You By?

How can we think our way into change when our brain is the problem? We don’t need more information, we need power and inspiration. By seeking out experiences which will completely overhaul our thinking, we wake up and start to change our perception of reality.

Looking back at my younger days (this is already starting out like a Bob Seger or Bryan Adams song) … I realize now that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

I was trapped in thought patterns, spinning my tires, and I didn’t have a clue.

Even when I thought I was being open minded, constantly learning new things and actively seeking (with humility), but I wasn’t addressing the real problem – my incessant thinking.

I remember my daily hour long commutes from Shelton to Bristol (this is in CT), and then back home again, driving my blue piece of crap Pontiac with its broken ignition and leaking head gasket, where I spent so much time listening to seminars, training, and self help books on CD. I would pepper in some vocal warm-ups and general “deep thinking” and contemplation all while heading down the road. I was trying so hard! I’d often stop at the halfway home mark at Dunkin Donuts for a coffee and a smoke, and to take a moment to reflect. I was always so excited about whatever new idea I had latched on to, that I thought would fix everything for me. I was a self help junkie, hooked on shiny metal objects and the search for the holy grail.

Hope was keeping me alive and it was propelling me forward. And I needed it. We all need it, because life is hard. But, 10 years later I realized that, although I had made nominal improvements, and I DID stay sober and manage to provide for my family (and not murder them … 3 small kids, including twins, one with autism) – I was actually “stuck” in spite of all my best attempts at chasing success.

I had been living completely in my head, replaying the past – either romancing it or beating myself up about it … or forecasting the future – worrying about what’s going to happen or making plans to control it. I was insane – doing the same things over and over, expecting different results, for years. Life was passing me by, because I wasn’t living in the now, in the moment, I was always in yesterday or tomorrow.

I was completely missing what was right in front of me. But how could I not see what was happening? Why didn’t anyone try to tell me? Would I have heard it if they did?

So, what am I talking about here?

Thinking can’t fix thinking!

Even when I sought out help, turning to successful people for advice, and paying coaches to guide me toward a breakthrough, I was still stuck, because I was trying to solve the wrong problems. No matter what I LEARNED, I was still standing in my own way, blocking progress. Because I didn’t need information, I needed to have an experience! I needed something to happen that would completely transform and change my operating system. Not a software update but a new install.

Self help wasn’t the answer. My perception of reality needed to change.

I had to stop grabbing at stuff, taking random actions in a desperate attempt to fix whatever issue was on fire at the moment, and stop, take a breath, and create some space between my thoughts and my actions. I needed divine inspiration – a power greater than myself, well, at least greater than my thinking mind. Whether we call it a higher “God” power, or a deeper “inner subconscious” power, it had to be something truly revolutionary – something that I had never fully tried before.

But like I said, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

I knew something was wrong, and I was seeking out a solution, but I never considered the solution could be as simple as “stop thinking”. I had tried meditating before, but I didn’t understand the point of it. Because I’m a thinker, I always need to know why I’m doing something or else I won’t truly commit. I might go through the motions, but inside I’m judging it, saying to myself, “that’s not gonna work, I don’t really believe that”.

What ultimately worked for me was acknowledging that my thoughts aren’t everything. The subtle surrender to the fact that there is a power and wisdom beyond my thoughts, that when I get out of the way, and I can BE in the present moment, the world makes more sense. I don’t know how to tell you the straightest path to get to this place, to awaken, to have this change in perception of reality, this complete operating system overhaul, because I had to go through hell to find it. But, one thing I know for sure, by focusing on and working toward a solution to what I consider to be “the right problem”, this idea of practicing presence and spiritual awakening, you’ll start to notice things you hadn’t noticed before, and more will be revealed.

Really, it all begins by creating a small space in between your thoughts. Small spaces become bigger spaces over time, which allows new power to come in. You can start practicing that right now.


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We Want To Know We’re Not Alone

Why do I share stuff? Why do I write blog posts like this and put things on social media?

Am I trying to change people’s minds? Do I want to influence people? Am I trying to GET something from them?

Yes, this is probably true on some level, but more than anything I think it’s about expression. I want to share – for ME, because that’s my way of connecting with other people. I’m speaking to the people that want to hear what I’m saying, either because they already believe what I believe, or are open and interested in what I’m saying.

I’m not posting to start a fight. Can you imagine if every interaction in-person was like an angry Facebook debate? Things don’t usually go that way in real life! We usually seek out and want to have enjoyable conversations where we feel a connection with the person we’re talking to.

So when I’m sharing my experience and my beliefs, I’m doing it for me, and for the people that want to hear it – and so THEY know that they are not alone.

It’s not about telling people what they should do or that they are wrong. Instead, I want to just share my experience. Not because I know something but because I’ve lived something. And you can’t argue with experience. You can point out that it doesn’t measure up against your own experience, but that doesn’t minimize my own experience – my own truth. We have to allow people to think the way they think. And if I did want to try to change the way someone thinks, it’s not gonna happen by yelling at them. We need to connect first.

For me, the simple practice of slowing down, being more present, and creating space between thoughts has caused a shift in my perspective. I realize why I’m compelled to share what I share – it’s to feel connected to other people.

And if my true desire is to help people, I know my chances are much better if I start from a place of connection, so that people lean in and WANT to hear more from me. This can be such a subtle thing. I’m not trying to confirm that I’m right, pandering for comments and likes, it’s more about feeling connected, so we all feel less alone.

I think the main point, what I need to remember, is that there’s a real person looking at the screen at the other end, reading the post I’m sharing. And deep down we have more commonalities, as human beings, than we have differences.


PS – My wife, Heather Prescott Liebensohn and I just released a song called “Contagious” which actually inspired this post!


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Do You Enjoy Being Angry?

Maybe you get a thrill from it? I know I do sometimes.

When I’m angry about something, it makes me feel powerful. It feels good when I’m judging something or someone – making them wrong and making ME right.

Especially when I’m afraid of the world, anger provides a moment where I feel like I have some control.

It’s survival, right?

But the problem is that most of the time, my anger is completely out of control. In other words, I don’t even know it’s happening until it’s too late. Someone says something to me and it sets me off. I read something on social media and I’m compelled to write back instantly. Even when I don’t react right away, I bottle it up thinking that I’ve done the right thing, but really I’m just a ticking time bomb waiting for someone (who is usually not the intended target) to trigger me so I can unleash. Then I’m angry at myself because I can’t control my anger. It’s unconscious anger that’s the real problem.

If only I could create some space, so I can see it coming at me from farther down the road, giving me time to formulate a response.

Of course, nothing changes until we hit a bottom. I had to come to the realization that the anger payoff wasn’t worth all the problems it caused. For me, it became clear that anger was putting up walls and causing me to miss out on opportunities, because I was too busy in my head, wasting time being angry. I also started noticing that my thoughts were sounding like a bunch of bullshit stories. Yes, things happened, but I was responsible for the story I told myself about the thing, and I was really good at making things worse.

It’s all about awareness. And now it’s important to me.

So, I started to question the thoughts that pop into my head. I became skeptical. Not everything I think is true. It’s a lot of old programming that doesn’t serve me, and I don’t always need to listen to it.

And I started practicing making space in between my thoughts by actively trying to not think for as long as possible, and as often as possible. Little by little, I started creating more of a gap in between each thought. Instead of it being one long stream – like a voice constantly talking to me, there are quiet moments. There’s space.

Now when something happens, there’s a gap between the time that I feel that emotion surge through my body and the words coming out of my mouth. I’ve bought myself time, so I can respond instead of react.

Being married, I get to practice this a lot! We can be out, having a great day, until my wife pushes one of my buttons. My first thought might be, “that bitch, who does she think she is!” But now (usually) I don’t react, I just remain present, and maybe say to myself, “well, I know that we love each other, so maybe I’m misunderstanding the situation.” What! Who the hell is this new person I’ve become? Where did that calm sanity come from? That’s the magic of awareness. Now I consider all the possibilities before I react. Did she mean to push my button? Did I say something to cause her to push my button in the first place? Or maybe the idea of a button is just a bullshit story altogether.

But this change didn’t happen overnight. It took practice. But, once I started putting consistent effort into creating more awareness and space, I noticed I was making better decisions in all areas of my life. I now have more peace and I connect with other people more easily. It seems that I attract more opportunities and feel more useful in the world. I feel like now, by being able to step back and notice situations, instead of reacting to them, I have real power.


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What You’re Looking for Is Not Out There

I was always working for something.

As a kid I worked to get an allowance, so I can buy something I wanted. Then I got a job so I could get a car. Then a better job so I could get a better car. I took guitar lessons because I wanted to be like Eric Clapton. I took piano lessons so I could be like Billy Joel. I went to the gym so I could look better, to get a better girlfriend.

Everything was a means to an end.

Happiness was always “out there” on the other side of the rainbow, and I thought all I had to do to get there was to work hard.

“Do these things”, then I get what I want. I assumed it was only a matter of working harder or finding the right strategy / secret.

For years, I never considered that there might be a flaw in my way of thinking. Until I got old enough and had sufficiently failed myself, that I stepped back and asked, “maybe I’m the problem?”

Instead of working to get something in the future, what if I put some of that energy into working on right now?

Is it possible to enjoy the moment I’m in, accepting things the way they are, and just stand there and smile? Can I find gratitude in the things I have instead of only focusing on what I don’t have?

It’s possible, but it takes work.

But I know how to work! I’ve worked hard at things all my life, so why not put some of that effort into being present? Practice keeping focus on whatever is right in front of you, being where your feet are, embracing whatever you’re feeling and not following the thoughts as they try to lead you somewhere else. Stay here for a while.

If you can make this shift, and adjust the way you operate – instead of looking for answers out there and in the future, look inside and in the now – it’s actually an easier, more enjoyable life.

Because the truth is, experience tells you that no matter how much you achieve, how much money you get, how good your body looks, as long as you’re looking for outside things to make you whole, you’ll never be happy. You might be for a while but it doesn’t last. Like a drug addict, you always need more.

Yet, ironically, if you focus on the inside first, not only do we experience true peace, joy and freedom, but we can still achieve outside success – because we want to, not because we have to.


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A Clean House Won’t Get You Into Heaven

I’ve tried many times to turn this line into a song, so far without luck. So now it’s a blog post.

I grew up living in some very clean houses. First there was my grandmother’s house – Nini. Then my mom’s. Everything was always perfectly neat and organized, and if you threw garbage in the bathroom pail, 5 minutes later it would mysteriously be empty.

I guess it was no accident that my first job was a dishwasher at a catering hall, where I not only cleaned dishes, but the entire facility. Constantly.

As I grew up and starting living on my own, I stayed fairly domestic, but I did rebel just a little. I actually refuse to take my shoes off when I come in the house sometimes!

I’ve learned to let some of my formal cleaning training go, but there’s still seems to be a nagging feeling that tells me there’s something wrong if the house isn’t always perfectly clean.

Not just that something is wrong. That I AM wrong.

But I’m tired of being valued for whether or not the house is clean, or if I have personally busted my ass to clean it.

It’s like my mind is telling me that it’s not enough for me to spend hours doing the thing that I get paid for, or working on a project that might make a difference in the grander scheme of things, beyond just impacting my own selfish needs. My mind is still saying, “but Mike, you didn’t clean today. you’re not done …” Even when I make a decision to let it go, to ignore the mess, that voice is still talking to me. “Mike, you know there are still dishes in the sink, don’t you?”


I don’t think the point of life is to check off all the boxes, and make everything nice and clean, so I can then get my reward. But that is exactly the message that was programmed into my head as a kid, at least subconsciously.

But I don’t want to be valued for my cleaning abilities anymore.

I am valuable because of how I think, what I say, and what I believe – but most importantly, because of who I AM – not what I clean.

I can just stand here and do nothing and still feel valuable. I don’t need to clean the house first. So, I’m calling bullshit on that little voice in my head, and I’m changing the story

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