Get that Paper Bag Off Your Head!

Howard just lay there in bed. He knew he had to go to work. But he felt so anxious and depressed, he didn't want to move. It felt like he had a paper bag over his head, and he didn't know why.

STUCK OR UNSTUCK?  Have you ever awakened feeling out of sorts, not knowing why? When this happened, weren't you tempted to focus on how bad you felt? The danger is, of course, getting stuck inside that brown bag on a mental merry-go-round.

YOU CAN GET UNSTUCK   Yet, there is a way to get unstuck right away. Start with these two simple questions: What am I feeling? and What do I want? can make a difference.

LABEL THAT FEELING!   Yes, you already know you feel lousy. But when you ask the first question and deliberately label what you are feeling, you can locate that feeling in time and space. You make the emotion concrete–something you can manipulate instead of giving it power to run you... you stop doing the same old thing and do something different.

YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR BRAIN Recent brain research by Matthew Lieberman of the University of California, Los Angeles suggests that simply labeling your feelings—angry, anxious, overwhelmed, sad—changes your brain.

A little almond shaped bundle of nerves, called the amygdala, sits in your emotional brain. It becomes very active when you are upset. Lieberman found that when his research subjects deliberately labeled their feelings, the amygdala began to slow down and “relax.” Also, labeling an emotion engages the thinking part of the brain and better equips you to understand and resolve your problems.

YOU CAN LEARN SOME SIMPLE TOOLS   There are simple tools you can learn to help you stay aware of feelings and label them. These tools can also help you to let go of feelings safely and appropriately. “Appropriately” means to express them without hurting yourself or anyone else. Later I'll tell you where you can find those tools.

So label your painful, angry, and overwhelming feelings. Learn to let go of them and engage the thinking part of your brain. Your mind will clear and now, it’s time for the second question: What do I want?

BAD NEWS – GOOD NEWS     When you ask this second question, look for personal losses and conflicts. There may be surprises. The bad news is that often, emotions help you avoid knowing things you are not ready to face. The good news is that when you release those emotions in an appropriate fashion, the door usually opens to new understanding. This includes knowing what you really want.

EMOTIONS AND THOUGHTS CAN POISON YOU   Appropriately managing your negative emotions and thoughts is critical. If you fail to deal with them, they don’t just disappear. They just sit in you. Like bad food, they can poison you until you get them out of you. Whoa, you can become so toxic, confused, and stuck. Why not learn to recognize emotional paper bags and how to get rid of them?

Using the two questions What am I feeling? and What do I want? can help. You can learn about these questions and other things in the book, Become the Person You Were Meant to Be – The Choice-Cube Method. The method presented in the book will give you a mental framework, simple tools, and four steps to help you deal with all kinds of paper bags. You can download the first chapter for free.

Does Your Body Hijack Your Mind?

When Jack feels upset, he tries to figure out what’s going on. Sometimes, he can, but more often he can’t find the answer. Janice in contrast, doesn’t even try to understand what’s happening. She just looks for someone to criticize or blame

Tom simply is not interested in trying to understand. He thinks that if he just forges ahead and works harder and harder, things have to get better. But usually they don’t.

These are all examples of people caught up in efforts to control people, things, actions, and problems.  

At the other extreme, are the people who try to avoid difficulties. Fran, for example, escapes her problems by getting high. Jack stuffs his thoughts and feelings about the problem, while Alice collapses, submits to the problem, and wallows in it. 

We have failed to understand and manage the overwhelming power of our body and emotions to hijack our mind and negatively influence our everyday life.  

Instead, for years, our efforts to help people with problems have focused on changing how they think—on their minds. We have ignored the role the body plays in driving us to avoid or control things that make us uncomfortable or threaten us in some other way. 

Why would we prefer to focus on the mind? Because honestly confronting our stress and emotions can be uncomfortable, even painful. In fact, we often choose to feel stuck and unable to change rather than deal directly and honestly with stress and negative emotions. 

This is dangerous. When we refuse to consciously and appropriately[1] manage stress and our emotions two things happen. First, stress and our emotions lock in warped and distorted thinking. Second, they hide the whole truth—the big picture--from us.

We then tend to use the avoid/control survival strategies, mentioned above, to keep stress and negative emotions from overwhelming us. The problem is that each time we repeat an old strategy, we strengthen it and create habit patterns of negative beliefs, reactions, and dysfunctional behaviors. 

Like Jack, Janice, and Alice, we reach for old, familiar strategies that prevent healthy resolution of issues. We strengthen the stress and negative emotions attached to them and create habit patterns that we mindlessly repeat and reinforce through repetition. 

It’s time to awaken to the role the body plays in what we think, feel, want, and do. It’s time to learn how to manage our stress and emotions moment-to-moment, instead of allowing stress and negative emotions to take over and control us. 

A first step is stress management training. This approach makes us aware of our body and often enables us to stay present in the moment. Body awareness and knowing how to use our mind to stay present is foundational. But there’s more, much more. 

Can you imagine a dependable method for choice and change that provides a simple framework to help you immediately recognize and label stress and negative emotions; tools that equip you to make wise choices and changes; and 4 steps to guide that change? 

Such a method would create an internal sense of safety as follows. I can trust the framework to help me recognize my stress and negative emotions, I can use the tools to help me take responsibility and make wise choices and changes. I can follow these 4 steps and do something different that leads to positive action.

The framework, tools, and 4 steps are like a tool kit that keeps you moving through problems and difficulties to a win-win resolution of them. 

When you can recognize your reactions and take responsibility for them, hopefully you have some simple tools to help you manage them. The tools should help you let go of crazy, hurtful thoughts--distorted information—and the emotions attached to those thoughts. 

Both the thoughts and the emotions--energy in motion--are embedded in the nervous system of your mind and body. It’s this distorted information and energy and that create the stress and negative emotions in the first place.

I would like to offer you the Choice-Cube® Method framework, tools and 4 steps to help you move through confusion, anxiety, anger, shame, and feeling overwhelmed to honesty and compassion for others and yourself. 

Would you like to learn how to use the framework, tools, and 4 steps in your life? They are found in, Become the Person You Were Meant to Be - The Choice-Cube Method:  Step by Step to Choice and Change, by Dr. Beth Blevins Cujé. You can learn more about the method and sign up for a free copy of the first chapter of Dr. Cujé’s book. Just click here:


[1]  “Appropriately” means managing our stress and emotions without hurting ourselves or others.


Terry, a heavy-set woman of forty, was on the floor curled-up, crying.  An early childhood memory about her mother was surfacing and it seemed more than she could handle. Old feelings of pain and confusion seemed fresh, almost new. The realization flooded her, overwhelmed her. She heard herself saying out loud, She wanted me to be totally under her domination and control. She wanted me to be her little puppet. Terrified, Terry held her breath. She felt like that little girl again. 

No One Will Help Me     Terry thought of calling someone. No, maybe she could write it out. Then she collapsed, feeling that there were no answers. No one would rescue her. Just as in her childhood, when she had no one to rescue her, there was no one to help her now. What could she do? Terry lay there, overwhelmed with the terror of having her will completely controlled by her mother. Her moaning increased, punctuated by the words, No one can help me. No one can help me.

Good News! I Can Be My Own Parent     Now, here’s some good news. Terry was seeing a therapist who just that week quoted an Alcoholics Anonymous saying, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” The therapist had suggested that the key to the quote was self-parenting. She also helped Terry understand the two major reasons why we can effectively be our own parents. 

Loving Parent, Wise Adult, Feeling Child    First, we all have different ways of being in the world. For example, we feel one way with a partner and another way with a child.  These different ways of thinking, feeling, and acting can be called “ego states.”

The three ego states of self-parenting are: The loving parent who has only one emotion--understanding and accepting love. In contrast there’s the wise adult who balances the loving parent by being totally rational and analytical with no feelings at all. (It’s the wise adult’s job to help the feeling child make sense of things.) Finally, there’s the feeling child. This is the part of the inner family who carries all emotions from pain to joy.

Second, we can have a functional inner family because our brain blurs the distinction between reality and what we imag­ine. This means for example, that when we imagine our loving parent tenderly holding us, our body and mind record that as really happening! Though this is confirmed by current brain research, Terry found it astonishing.

Terry Finds Hope      Returning to Terry who was still on the floor, broken-hearted, crying, something had changed. She had hope. “Maybe,” she thought, “maybe I can become my own loving parent, wise adult, and feeling child and work through this memory to create a better outcome. She decided to give it a try and sat up.

For the moment, Terry became the loving parent. Looking around, in her mind’s eye she saw her feeling child—her little girl--curled in a ball, lying on the ground. Ah, there she was. In her imagination, as the loving parent, Terry reached out for the little girl and asked if she would come and let Terry hold her. To her amazement, the little girl uncurled, came over to Terry’s loving parent and crawled up into her lap. In Terry’s imagination, as the loving parent, she gently wrapped her arms around her feeling child and drew her close to her heart. It seemed strange, but at that moment, she also felt like the little girl.  But now she felt loved and safe.

Terry Finds Some Answers          The loving parent and feeling child stayed in that embrace for a few moments. Then it seemed to Terry that the wise adult came on the scene. The wise adult, as mentioned, has no feelings. It’s the wise adult’s job to be totally rational and analytical and to help the feeling child make sense of things. In fact, that’s exactly what the wise adult did for Terry’s little girl.

The wise adult affirmed Terry’s impression, that her mother wanted to control and dominate her totally. But the wise adult also explained that Terry had survived and broken free of her mom. The wise adult helped the feeling child understand that her terror of being swallowed-up by her mother was a real and legitimate feeling but that she that she could label that fear and let it go—release it. Then she could unlock her thinking and move on with life.

There's More Work Ahead      Fortunately, in therapy, Terry had also learned some simple but powerful tools for labeling and releasing negative emotions. Using one of them, she felt immediate relief from the terror. But she had more work to do. Once the terror and fear diminished, a white-hot rage surfaced. She was using a tool to help her let go of the anger when oops, another emotion surfaced, and another, and another. She worked for almost forty minutes using the tool to let go of one negative emotion after another until she was so exhausted she just fell asleep.

Change Is Both Psychological and Physical!     Terry did a fantastic piece of trauma work. But change is as physical as it is psychological. Her thoughts and feelings were not only in her mind, they were in her body as well. Like connecting ski trails, those thoughts and feelings were embedded in connecting nerve pathways in her brain and body.

Terry’s task was to stop going over the old nerve pathways, which strengthened them, as well as the thoughts, feelings and desires embedded in them. She would have to do something different to create new, more positive pathways. Though this requires time and repetition, 

Time and repetition required     Terry had a profound experience, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. She will have to revisit the stress, emotions, thoughts and desires of her experience many times before she can put her past to rest. But she can do it. True, it takes time and effort, and it doesn’t feel good at the moment. But letting go of all that old painful “information” and misdirected energy is liberating. Certainly it’s worth a try.

What about you? Just like Terry, if you continue to repeat old thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and fail to change them, you can become stuck in them. That’s what an addictions is.

If you would like to know more about Terry’s approach to choice and change, go to Dr. Beth Cujé’s website, Check out the descriptions of the Choice-Cube® Method and her blog posts. You can also sign up for a free chapter of her book, Become the Person You Were Meant to Be – The Choice-Cube Method: Step by Step to Choice and Change.

4 Proven Steps For Change

Hank was frustrated! He knew he should work things out with Franny, but he was so tired of arguing that he just did not want to make the effort. Trying to work things out with her seemed impossible. What about you? Has life ever seemed a battle between what you knew you should do and what you were willing to do? Have you ever felt you were losing the battle and that there was no way to resolve an issue? 

ONLY THREE CHOICES    The truth is that in every situation you have only three kinds of choices. And everything depends on the choice you make. You can try to avoid an issue. That's what Hank was doing. You can try to control it (use anger or try harder with no good results) or change and successfully resolve it.

It’s only natural to want to avoid or control an issue. Who wants to tangle with a snarling dog? But trying to avoid or control a snarling boss can lead to bigger and nastier problems. Problems start when we fail to resolve issues and get stuck trying to avoid or control them inappropriately.

Here's a important thought. With each choice we make, we program ourselves!

4 SIMPLE STEPS FOR CHANGE     If we choose to take responsibility for what we think, feel, want, and do, we begin to change the only thing we can change. . .ourselves. Let's look at the following 4 steps that can help us make important changes and solve problems.          

STEP 1:  We recognize when, instead of wanting to resolve an issue win-win, we try to avoid it (go shopping, dump on a friend, just give up) or control it (be right, no compromise).

STEP 2:  We manage our stress and express our emotions appropriately.

STEP 3:  We think more clearly now because we have dealt with out stress and negative emotions. Now, we can see the pros and cons of the situation and focus on finding a solution to the problem instead of focusing on the problem itself.

STEP 4:   We do something different and take honest, compassionate action.

THE CHOICE-CUBE METHOD CAN HELP    You may want to look at the Choice-Cube Method’s tools and 4 key steps as one way to make wise choices and changes. The method is found in my book, Become the Person You Were Meant To Be - The Choice-Cube Method:  Step by Step to Choice and Change. Click here to see inside the book. 

Trying Hard To Stay Cool, Calm And Collected

Trying hard to stay calm, cool and collected!    This recent status report on Facebook caught my attention. In our super busy world, this statement sums up what many of us are trying to do, much of the time.

BODY   We try to stay calm, cool and collected and control stress in our body (tense shoulders, teeth grinding, sweating, and shallow breathing). But often, we fail to manage our stress because we don't know how. Or we ignore and avoid what our body tells us.

EMOTIONS     We may try, but find it impossible to control, negative emotions such as fear, anger, shame, and feeling overwhelmed. "I shouldn't feel this way." Perhaps we try to avoid them by distracting ourselves. Or we may avoid them as we block or ignore them. Going numb is a symptom of avoidance. 

MIND  - WILL   We often do the same things with unacceptable thoughts and desires. We try to control them and figure them out. Or try to avoid them as we distract ourselves or go numb. 

THEY DON'T JUST DISAPPEAR   Whether we try to avoid or control these reactions, we don't take responsibility for them. And so we fail to deal with them constructively. Does that settle the matter? Oh no. Those messages from our bodies, emotions, or minds go underground—into our subconscious. And there they stay until they gather enough power to resurface, or until circumstances force them into our awareness. 

A LOSE-LOSE SITUATION   So we create a lose-lose conflict. It I let it all hang out, I lose. I hurt people or make a fool of myself. But if I mindlessly and automatically try to avoid or control my thoughts, feelings and desires, I also lose because I don’t really resolve them. What’s a person to do? 

Good question. You can’t fix something if you are not aware of it. So why not allow yourself to think what you think, feel what you feel, want what you want? Willingness to stay aware gets you off auto-pilot. Now, you can take responsibiity for your reactions and make healthy changes.

TRY THE CHOICE-CUBE METHOD   The simple Choice-Cube self-help method can help you manage your body, thoughts, emotions, and desires. Here's how.

First, the method gives you a mental framework to help you stay in touch with what you feel think, and want. Second, there are simple tools to help you do what’s best for you and for those you care for. Third, there are four key steps to guide your change, in a rliable, systematic way, from inappropriate defensiveness to healthy problem-solving.

Using this method, you learn to feel, think, and want without having to act on it. Instead, you learn to use the framework, tools, and steps to make important changes and take the best course of action. You become your own BFF—best friend forever--and relate in a healthy way to those you care for.