Seven Ways We Can Combat Racial Bias In Society and Law Enforcement

Seven Ways We Can Combat Racial Bias In Society and Law Enforcement

In my last post we discussed racial bias and it’s influence on deathly police shootings of unarmed Black males. In this post, we’re going to descuss seven ways to possibly correct this racial bias and hopefully create a society that’s less racist and law enforcement that protects and serves it’s Black citizens better.

Address Racial Prejudice At A Young Age

Let’s face it, we live in a racist society. It’s hard to grow up today and not have some form of prejudice implanted in you by society. Even many of us who think we aren’t prejudice have shown our true colors during the Black Lives Matter protests by the things we say in comment sections when we think we’re safe behind our keyboards and smart phones.

The good thing is, children are much more accepting and responsive to racial bias reduction strategies compared to adults. The earlier we introduce them to racial bias and stereotypes, the more likely they are to recognize them and therefore not engage in them when they get older. Introducing programs that address racial bias reduction in elementary schools could lead to a whole new generation of adults that are less prejudice compared to trying to integrate racial bias reduction programs later in life.

Increase Interracial Engagement

If we mainly surround ourselves by others who look and think like us, it’s easy to develop intergroup bias. Cross racial engagement helps alleviate that bias. When people engage with others from different races, it gives them a chance to know them on a deeper level, therefore when they hear broad assumptions such as “All Black people are criminals”, they have a frame of reference that allows them to say “that is not true”. Cross-racial engagement not only leads to better understanding of other groups, but it can lead to better relationships as well. White college students for example, with cross-race roommates tend to have more diverse friendship bases, experience less interracial anxiety, and are more likely to value diversity after only a few months (Gaither & Sommers, 2013). When people from opposite races, personally know people from that race , they are less likely to engage in stereotypes and more likely to support systemic reform that helps make the lives of those who may look different from them better.

Increase Community Policing

Ideally, community policing means that the police are engaged with the civilians who live in that community. They take the time and effort to build relationships. They show that they are there to protect and serve, not just to enforce the law. As a Black male who grew up in a Black neighborhood, as a kid I was always afraid when the police came to my street because I never saw them show up to do anything other than harass and arrest people. They weren’t usually nice. I didn’t see them as allies. I saw them as someone to be afraid of, to run from. That’s how the police are viewed in a lot of inner-city neighborhoods because of the lack of relationships they have within the community. It doesn’t help that in my neighborhood, most of the time the police who patrolled it were White, they didn’t live anywhere near where I lived. They got to come to our lower income neighborhood, harass us for being in our neighborhood and then leave and go to better neighborhoods. We resented them and that’s not how it should have been, but that’s how it was when I was growing up and it hasn’t changed. In community policing, law enforcement and the citizens have mutual respect for each other and work together to keep the community safe. The citizens and police develop trust between each other which is something that is lacking in most inner-city neighborhoods. When police officers are seen only as coming around to harass citizens and over patrol a neighborhood, the citizens not only develop a fear towards the officers, but also a distrust and resentment that makes it hard for both the officers to do their jobs and for the citizens to feel as if they are being protected and served by those officers fairly.

Diversify Police Departments

A diverse police department not only helps officers from different races, genders and backgrounds develop better gender and interracial engagement among each other, but it would greatly help with community policing. As I said before, most of the officers that patrolled the Black neighborhood I grew up in were White. Because there often is a distrust between the Black community and police in general and White police officers particularly, it fosters an “us versus them” mentality in both the community and with the police officers. This “us versus them” mentality in law enforcement I believe is one of the cancers that a diversified police department can cut out by inhibiting prototypicality and less homogeneity while increasing more positive attitudes towards the communities these officers patrol.

Rotational Assignments For Officers

Many officers are assigned to high crime areas where their only interactions with minorities may be dealing with the worst of the worst. They may be in gang units or “street crime units” where they are more likely to encounter minorities who fit the cultural stereotype of being criminals. If this is what the officers see on a regular basis, it’s easy for them to start assuming that most minorities, especially Black males, are suspicious or involved in some type of criminal activity. It would be helpful to have officers rotate assignments in minority communities so that they can see that race isn’t a diagnostic cue for determining a threat. For example, an officer who was in the gang unit can also be assigned to work where he or she will have a wider range of interactions with minorities such as school aged children, the elderly, business owners and just regular citizens who care about their community. This exposure will likely help the officer be less stereotypical and not relate race so much to crime or a threat. This goes for officers of all races.

Diveristy Training

It should be required that all law enforcement officers go through continual diversity training. Studies have shown that diversity training can have immediate, positive impacts on the way officers view other races, especially when that training is combined with both awareness (self awareness of stereotyping) and skill development (practice resolving conflict). Most people do not intend to be racist, bias or even stereotype, but it is subsconcious and that’s why diversity training is so important. It helps bring those subconscious biases and stereotypes to the conscious where they can be addressed.

Increase Accountability

Lastly, to equalize status differences between law enforcement officers and civilians as well as to address racial bias, body cams and dash cams should be mandatory during each officers-civilian encounter. This will help hold officers accountable for their on-duty conduct. It is a good idea for both the protection of the officer and the civilian as well as can be used as a training and appraisal tool. It also equalizes status differences between the officer and civilian so that the officers account of an incident doesn’t automatically outweigh the account of the civilians. Law enforcement officers should not be afraid to do their jobs, but like all professionals, they should be held accountable, trained properly and disciplined when they do their jobs poorly.

 

Changes don’t happen over night, but none of these suggestions are hard to put into place. We have to tackle racial bias if we hope to reduce the number of shootings of unarmed Black men, the over patrolling and arresting of minorities as well as creating a police force that is welcomed and not feared in minority communities.

Sources:

Hall, A. V.< Hall, E. V., & Perry, J. L. (2016) Black and blue: Exploring racial bias and law enforcement in the killings of unarmed black male civilians {Electronic version].

Racial Bias And It’s Influence On Law Enforcement Killings Of Black Males

Racial Bias And It’s Influence On Law Enforcement Killings Of Black Males

I wrote a long time ago about cognitive bias and confirmation bias and its effects on the Trayvon Martin Situation

After painfully watching the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police department in the shadow of other killings of unarmed Black men, it’s time to revisit why this keeps happening. 

In the case of George Floyd, we need to explore why a police officer (Derek Chauvin) kneeling on a restrained persons neck who is complaining of not being able to breath and literally begging for his life, showed no restraint, empathy or mercy as he continued to block off the man’s air and blood flow until he died. Or why his fellow officers ( Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng)  would stand by and allow it to happen without question. 

I don’t believe that all of these officers and people involved in other shootings of unarmed Black people are racist, but I do believe that they were indeed highly influenced by racial bias

Racial Bias

Black male citizens are 21 more times likely to be killed by law enforcement compared to White male citizens according to a ProPublica analysis of federal data on police shootings. This suggest that in these deadly encounters, some sort of racial bias is present and this racial bias extends beyond law enforcement and into the community in general. Meaning, that even civilians seem to believe that Black lives matter less than White lives and it’s not due to outright racism in most cases, but subconscious prejudices. 

Implicit bias occurs when a discriminator is not consciously aware of his or her own bias, whereas explicit bias occurs when a discriminator is able to introspectively self-report these biased behaviors or attitudes (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). 

In Black and blue: Exploring racial bias and law enforcement in the killings of unarmed black male civilians, Hall, Hall & Perry discuss three stereotypes that make Black males especially more at risk of becoming victims of police shootings.

Black Youth as Adult-Like

Racial bias starts at a very young for Black children. In studies conducted by Goff, Jackson, Di Leone, Culotta and DiTomaso (2014) where undergraduate students and law enforcement officers were instructed to evaluate and estimate the age and culpability for their actions of Black, White and Latino children, participates consistently judged Black boys to be older by an average of 4.53 and 4.59 years compared to their same aged White counterparts. Therefore, those Black children were seen to be more adult-like and thus the severity of their punishment should be harsher. This translates to the participants even agreeing that those Black children deserved more use of force by the police than same aged White children.

Think about this. If these participants saw a 14 year old as 18 or 19, they agreed that they deserved punishment legally and physically usually reserved for adults. 

This comes into play when we think back to the killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy playing with a toy gun in the park. When the police responded and killed him nearly immediately, the officer who killed him reported that he thought Tamir was around 20 years of age. Again, if an officer was responding correctly to a 12 year old with a potential real gun he might have responded differently, but the fact that he imagined Tamir to be 8 years older, an adult with a gun, probably caused him to respond more aggressively. The color of Tamir’s skin, subconsciously to the officer, made him older, therefore more of a threat and more deserving of swift lethal force. 

Blacks as Sub- and Superhuman

There is a lot of research that shows that Blacks have been dehumanized in American culture for centuries. Black people are often implicitly associated with apes. They are seen as subhuman, as anamalistic and therefore deserving of stricter legal and physical punishment and less empathy. 

Blacks are also often implicitly seen as superhuman, having extraordinarily strength and able to endure more pain more compared to Whites. If law enforcement officers see Blacks, specifically young Black males as superhuman, it’s easy for them to justify uses of force and even to start developing a narrative where the Black male suspect is the villain and the officer is the superhero. Darren Wilson in his 2014 grand jury testimony about the killing of Michael Brown described Brown as if he had supernatural strength, stating that he “felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan”  (Calamur, 2014). 

When approaching a Black male subject, even if he is unarmed, many officers may already be anticipating a fight for their life.

Blacks as Violent and Criminal Threats

Pervasive at an implicit level is the stereotype that Blacks are criminals. People who are not racist by nature, often are brainwashed by society to believe that Blacks are dangerous and cannot be trusted. 

In a classic study, Duncan (1976) showed participants a scene in which one student shoved another student. The participants reported that the student shoving the other student was more violent when the shoving student was Black, compared to when he was White. Blacks as criminals also comes into play whenever a Black male is the victim of a police shooting or other unarmed attack and the media and others quickly attempt to brand the victim as a “thug” as seen in the Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and Ahmaud Arbery cases just to name a few.

When the police already see Black males as violent and criminals, it’s easy to make the leap to excessive use of force and deadly force. This is before (and if they ever make it to) the legal system which dishes out punishment harsher to Black males for the same reasons we’re discussing here.

Stereotypes in the Context of Shooter Bias

Stereotypes about Black males influence “shooter bias” (Cornell et al., 2007). What this means is that in shooter bias experiments where participants are asked to make quick decisions on whether to shoot or not shoot a Black or White target in a computer simulation holding a gun, a wallet, a cell phone or another non-gun object, participants were more likely to shoot a Black target holding a non-gun object than a White target holding a non-gun object. They were even more likely to hesitant (which could mean life or death) when it came to shooting White targets holding guns compared to Black targets. This is not entirely about race, but knowledge of cultural stereotypes as other studies have shown that Black participants and Black officers are just as likely to have the same shooter bias’ as White participants and White officers. 

This shows that stereotypes associated with Black culture (i.e., Black men being violent, criminals, sub- or superhuman) are independent of explicit racial or prejudicial beliefs. Someone who may not be considered a racist may subconsciously respond differently to Black people in stressful situations without intentionally having ill will or bad intentions. This is one reason they will be quick to tell you that they are not racist and how many Black friends they have.

This extends beyond Law Enforcement and to society which means that if we want to change Law Enforcement’s attitudes when encountering Black civilians, Black males specifically, we also need to change the way society sees and the media portrays Black people. Simply, Black people need to be seen in a more positive light if we hope to change anything.

In the next post, we’ll discuss some possible solutions.  

A Quick Observation During The Coronavirus Pandemic

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As most of the country and the world is slowly returning to normal, I have noticed that there seems to be an even deeper divide in society between those who believe we most continue to stay safe and those who believe that the pandemic has been largely blown out of proportion or even made up.

For example, at my local grocery store all employees are required to wear masks. Protective shields have been put in place to protect the cashiers and directional arrows on the floor to increase social distancing.

For the most part, the customers are also wearing masks and following the directional arrows, but I’ve also noticed many shoppers who aren’t wearing masks and those shoppers tend to be the ones who also aren’t obeying the directional arrows.

The more I noticed this pattern, the more it intrigued me. I surmised that those individuals who weren’t wearing masks although it has been highly recommended by our local government, are individuals who believe that the pandemic has been exaggerated and that the measurements taken to reduce the spread are unnecessary.  They believe themselves to be rebels and everyone else who are following the guidelines to be sheep who obey without question. This explains why these people also tend to be the ones not following the directional arrows as they probably believe it’s ridiculous.

These are likely the same people who are protesting for everything to open and to the end of our county wide curfew. One friend of mine who doesn’t wear a mask and is protesting for the reopening of everything is single with no loved ones to worry about. He lives alone and spends a lot of his time out in bars and restaurants. I’m sure at the height of this pandemic, the social distancing and quarantine must have felt like torture to him.

He doesn’t know anyone who has been affected by COVID-19 outside of it’s impact on employees and businesses. He, like many of the people protesting, not wearing masks, not obeying government and medical recommendations, is only worried about how this pandemic has affected him personally. He has a very myopic view, even if he hides it under the pretense of being worried about local businesses. At the end of the day he is more upset that this is making him temporarily change his lifestyle than he is about how this is impacting the health and safety of others.

Some people just aren’t very empathetic. It’s hard for them to sympathize with or even put themselves in the shoes of others if they are directly impacted.

I know people who have not only battled and survived the Coronavirus, but I also know people who have lost family members to the virus.

One of my coworkers who barely got sick when she contracted the virus ended up losing an uncle to it and her mother is still in intensive care several weeks after contracting the virus.

Another friend is currently planning the funeral for her grandmother who died from the Coronavirus. People are still getting infected and dying despite the good news that the spread is on the decline.

I have friends in healthcare who are treating patients with the virus, many who have died and these friends think that the people who are protesting for reopening and not wearing mask are ignorant and are risking others lives out of selfishness.

There are always going to be opposing views to any situation, but I can’t help but to think that if my friend and others who are protesting had friends or family who battled this virus, that if it hit home and wasn’t just something they heard about through the media, then maybe they would think differently. Maybe they would be more patient, cautious and less selfish.

I do think things need to slowly start going back to normal, but safely with social distancing and safe practices in place. We are all in this together and we have to come out of it together.

Tips To Fighting Depression While Social Isolating

Tips To Fighting Depression While Social Isolating

This morning I was speaking with a coworker who shared how she was starting to feel depressed with the quarantine and social distancing most of us are experiencing. She stated, “There’s only so much texting and talking on the phone you can do.” A lot of us are feeling that way and as this crisis goes on for (hopefully only) a few more weeks, it can become more and more depressing and anxiety provoking.

To combat becoming depressed and anxious during this time, here are seven of my favorite tips.

Take Care of Your Body

It’s easy to lose focus of our bodies with all the gyms closed and us being forced to stay inside, but working out, eating healthy and getting rest is one of the best ways to keep us both mentally and physically healthy. Your workout can be a simple walk around the block or taking advantage of a multitude of easy workout apps just to keep your body moving and endorphins flowing.

Limit News Intake

We all want to stay informed, but it’s too easy to become overwhelmed with the 24/7 news coverage and nearly hourly breaking news interruptions. I even find myself watching hours of local and national news and have to remind myself to take a break. For people who are prone to depression and anxiety, too much media intake will only make it worse. Stay informed, but limit yourself to how much coverage you follow.

 Create a Routine

Many of us are working from home or perhaps even laid off. It’s easy to stay in bed all day or sit in front of the television for hours. Having a routine helps to break us out of that. We can even create a to-do list of all the things we’d like to accomplish that day. For some us struggling with anxiety and depression, it may be as simple as waking up before noon, taking a shower and eating something healthy.

Don’t Work Too Hard

For those of us who are working from home, it may become easier to just focus on work and even work more than we would if we were actually in a physical building. This can lead to burnout. Try to keep the same schedule and hours you wold have at work, even if you’re at home. Take your lunch breaks and start and stop work as you usually would.

Reach Out To Others

We may not be able to visit friends or go to Starbucks with our best friend right now, but we can still take advantage of the various ways we can still communicate such as the telephone, text, Skype, Zoom, and Face Time. The list goes on and on. Reaching out to others helps us remember that we’re not alone in this even if we may feel like it.

Fight Boredom

Being bored can make everything feel worse than it is. Now is the time to catch up on a series on Netflix you’ve always wanted to watch, finish that 1,000 piece puzzle or challenge yourself in any other way you can think of. I personally am using this time to catch up on some reading and a little bit of Netflix too.

Be Positive

Tony Robbins, one of my favorite motivational speakers often says, “Trade your expectations, for appreciation”. No one wants to go through what we are going through, but we can still find something positive in this moment. It could be getting closer through messaging with a friend we hadn’t spoken to in years or spending more time with our family.

A friend of mine who was laid off used his newly found free time to fix up a boat that had been neglected and sent me a photo of him and his dog out on the lake enjoying the sunset! He could be really sad right now focusing on being laid off, but instead he’s being positive and embracing the insanity. It’s easy to focus on the negative, but finding small things to appreciate will help us get through this.

Remember This Is Temporary

Thankful, like all crisis and disasters, this will come to an end. If we focus on how long it’s been or how much longer it will be, each day will drag by. Take it one day at a time. Focus on today and what’s good about today. We’ll worry about tomorrow when it comes.

Social Distancing and Mental Health

Social Distancing and Mental Health

Everyday it seems like more and more measures are being put in place to keep people physically apart in an effort to combat the Coronavirus (COVID-19). While this is necessary to keep us healthy and to stop the spread of the virus, social distancing overtime can have a negative psychological effect on many people.

Yesterday, the governor of the state I live in (Florida), issued a stay-at-home order which bans all non-essential activities and asked people to stay home as much as possible. Schools are closed. Bars are closed. Hair Salons are closed. Most restaurants are closed except for take out. It is a necessary measure and one that most other states have also put into place.

However, the loss of social connection for some people cave have a devastating impact. 

Research on people who have been quarantined (an extreme form of social distancing) during events such as Ebola, SARS and the H1N1 flu show that many experienced short and long term mental health problems.  Many reported increased substance abuse, stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia even three years after the quarantine ended. 

While most of us are not under a quarantine, they are other byproducts of social distancing that can effect our mental state including the negative effect on the economy.

A record number of people have lost their jobs and have filed for unemployment. Many are struggling to pay their rent and other bill. They are facing uncertain and unpredictable futures. This can cause a number of mental health challenges for anyone, but especially for those already struggling with mental health issues. 

This doesn’t even take into account that many kids are also home which can cause added stress to parents. Think about a couple who is already struggling to get along and add the stress of kids being home, financial instability and everyone being forced to be around each other more than they usually would and you could have the recipe for a disaster.

The elderly are particularly at risks for not only the Coronavirus, but for mental health problems due to increased social isolation.

A lot of elderly people already feel isolated and have few or shrinking support systems. Many already felt lonely before the increased social distancing started. Now having visitors is discouraged and seeing loved ones face to face may be impossible.

A study done In 2015 by Holt-Lunstad and her colleagues suggest that loneliness and isolation can increase the risk of someone dying earlier than if they were not lonely. That’s a sad thing to think about when we are forced to social isolate to protect each other, especially the elderly.  

The majority of people will be perfectly fine during this pandemic. Some people naturally social isolate as is and their lives have minimally if at all been affected.

Others will get closer to their families and connect over social media, telephone, Face-time, etc.  However, nothing can substitute for face to face human interactions such as hugging and holding hands which can positively affect someone’s health both mentally and physically.

Imagine being sick in the hospital and not being allowed any visitors due to the virus. It’s  for your safety and the safety of your loved ones, yet you are being deprived of the connection and human touch you may need at the worst time. 

Fortunately, we due live in a time of incredible methods of communication and  there are a lot of telehealth and telepsych options for people who may need additional support to get them through this period. 

We have to practice social distancing to get through this and we have to obey the stay-at-home and other orders given by our authorities to keep our communities safe, but let’s not forget about those who may need a little extra attention during this time so that they don’t feel forgotten and they don’t fall into a mental health crisis without their support system there to help. 

We can stay home and yet still find ways to stay connected with each other.

5 Reasons Women Pretend To Be Pregnant

5 Reasons Women Pretend To Be Pregnant

I’ve been asked a lot since my post Is Pretending to Be Pregnant a Mental Illness, what are the most common reasons someone would lie about being pregnant. 

I’ve talked to many women who have lied about being pregnant since I wrote that post and have heard many reasons these women pretended to be pregnant. Here are five of the most common reasons. 

Reasons Women Lie About Being Pregnant

  1. Attention: A lot of women tell me that they like the attention that they get from their partner, their friends, family or just other people in general when they think they are pregnant. They feel that people treat them nicer and that feeling of being treated special can be very addicting. 
  2. To Keep a man:  This is probably the biggest reason Some women claim to be pregnant, to keep a man from leaving them, or in some instances to get him to propose. They believe that a good man won’t abandon them if they are pregnant and will use that lie to keep him around either long enough to actually get pregnant or long enough for her to win back his affection which usually requires more psychological and emotional manipulation. This strategy doesn’t usually work and only prolongs the inevitable break up. However, throughout history it has worked enough times that some women see it as a worthy gamble. 
  3. Extortion: Some women, a surprisingly a large number of them being college students, will use pretending to be pregnant as a money making extortion. Some of are having affairs with wealthy, but married men, some who are college professors or other prominent members in the community who would pay large amounts of money to make the evidence of their infidelity go away. Some women actually do this on a regular basis, conning more than one guy at a time as they rake in the money to pay for college tuition, books, shopping sprees and trips. 
  4. Privilege: There are women who will pretend to be pregnant for the smallest, trivial things. Some to get in the front of a line or use a restroom in first class on a plane. Some lie about being pregnant to get free food, to explain eating large amounts of food, to escape from being judged for being overweight or to get special treatment or time off from work. In her book, Meternity, Meghann Foye writes about a woman who pretends to be pregnant in order to get paid maternity or has she says, “meternity” leave. 
  5. Revenge: Some women use the lie of being pregnant to get back at a partner who has left them. They may lie about the pregnancy to make him look bad, to cause drama in his new relationship or simply to just drive him crazy with anxiety and fear so that he can’t move on because it’s possible he may be having a baby with someone he is trying to move on from. 

There are countless reasons why someone pretends to be pregnant. I’ve heard everything from “to get my roommate to move out” to “to get out of helping someone move”.

Some of the reasons require someone to pretend to be pregnant for a very short time, while others require a longer commitment. I don’t think either one is better than the other, but psychologically, I think women who pretend to be pregnant to people they have to deal with on a regular basis and thus have to continue to lie for longer periods of time are women who are more likely to have deeper personality, mental and emotional issues. Unlike a short lie about being pregnant, a prolonged lie requires a resolution at some point. A baby either has to be produced or another lie about an abortion or miscarriage has to be created. 

In extreme cases, this may cause someone to kidnap or even murder someone else in order to steal and secure a baby.  

Why I Train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and I Think You Should Too

Why I Train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and I Think  You Should Too

Nearly exactly a year ago today I started taking Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). It was something I had been wanting to do, but had put off for almost ten years. I kept coming up with a excuses, but mostly, I was afraid. The longer I put it off, the more excuses I came up with. In those nearly ten years I went from having no children, to having two children. From having a relatively easy job to a very taxing one. I brought a new car and then another new car. The excuses from time to finances became easier and easier to make, but the bottom line remained the same, I was scared.

I felt like I was too out of shape and too old, but the truth was, none of that was going to change. I was only getting older and while I went to the gym often, I was lifting weights for strength and size so I was only getting bulkier.

Finally one day I decided to sign up for a free week at a school that was near my house, offered classes at times that worked with my schedule and was recommended by a friend who had been training for a few years. 

I could go into what it was like my first days, weeks or months training BJJ, but I want to focus on what I learned psychologically over the past twelve months of training and why you, if interested, should give BJJ a shot as well. 

(For the rest of this post I will be using the terms Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, BJJ and Jiu Jitsu interchangeably)

It’s Okay To Be A Beginner

One of the first things I had to learn in BJJ is to embrace being a beginner. The very first time I put on a Jiu Jitsu Gi (what we wear to most classes), I put my pants on backwards and didn’t know how to tie my belt. I felt embarrassed, but I shouldn’t have. I was clueless and that’s okay.

Jiu Jitsu evolves a lot of complex body movements that I know I looked and probably still look weird doing. I’m not coordinated and certainly I’m not acrobatic. At first I was worried about looking like a clumsy gorilla tumbling across the mat, but now I couldn’t care less about how I look to other people. No one has ever made fun of me, nor are they likely to. You’ll find that Jiu Jitsu people are some of the nicest and most helpful people. They love to see new people and want you to keep showing up and getting better.

Don’t be afraid to start something out of fear of looking foolish or of not knowing what you’re doing. You’re new, you’re a beginner, you’re not supposed to know better. That’s the beauty of being a beginner. Embrace it.  

You’re Not Too Old

I read a meme that said something like, “The best time to start training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is age 9 and now.” Like I said earlier, I was afraid that I was too old to learn something that was so physical and complex, but the truth is, you’re never too old.

I am 40 years old, I know I am never going to be a World Champion Brazilian Jiu Jitsu player and once you understand that and why you are training, age becomes less of a factor. I’m training to learn a new skill, for physical activity and self-defense. There is no age limit to any of those things. Sure there was a time when every part of my body was aching (very common as BJJ is a total body sport) and I started to wonder if I was too old for this stuff, but eventually my body adjusted and now, I move better and have more endurance than I did ten years ago.  I get to exercise my competitive side which I hadn’t done since playing football in my early twenties and I can even compete for medals or for fun if I ever want to. 

The Way You Are In Jiu Jitsu Tends To Be The Way You Are In Life

When I first started rolling in Jiu Jitsu (what we call sparring), I was very reactionary, timid and didn’t try to win because I always assumed I would lose. Jiu Jitsu teaches you a lot about yourself which is one reason I think so many people love it. After a few months of trying to figure out why I was sucking so badly, not counting the limited skills I knew, I realized I needed to be more assertive and confident. As soon as I did that, my Jiu Jitsu not only got a lot better, but so did the way I lived my life. There is something about dominating, surviving or even withstand the onslaught of another person’s attacks on the Jiu Jitsu mats that make being confident, speaking up for yourself and tackling problems at home and work seem a lot easier. Some of my teammates even say how they are nicer people, better parents and better partners after Jiu Jitsu class. 

I feel like I walk with more confidence now and it’s not that because after one year of training I feel like I am a martial arts expert, but I do feel like I can handle and protect myself much better if need be. Even more importantly, because I feel more confident overall, I am more calm and I think that energy of confidence radiates out like energy into other parts of my life.

It’s Addictive

They say BJJ is for everyone and that is true to an extent. Anyone can learn BJJ, but not everyone is going to like it. People I know who tried it and quit within a month say that they didn’t like the physical contact and closeness that is essential in training BJJ.

For those people, BJJ may not be the way to go, but that closeness and physical contact of BJJ is just what makes it so enjoyable. Many of us long for physical contact in a way that we can’t get in our day to day lives.

In BJJ, that human contact is there in a way that is both competitive and connecting at the same time. Never in my life had I had other men welcome me to straddle them or get so close to them that I can feel every muscle and bone in their body. It quickly made me become comfortable with not just my own sexuality and my beliefs about how close and connected two men can be, but it taught me that my training partners were also comfortable in their own skins and felt comfortable and safe with me in ways that most people would not.

It’s that trust, that openness and closeness that helps build a special bond with the men and women I train with. One that can’t be explained, but keeps me coming back to become better at BJJ for myself and my training partners. After rolling with a good training partner for the first time, you just feel connected with them in a way that’s special to Jiu Jitsu and that helps build bonds and friendships. If you don’t have many friends, BJJ is a sure way to gain a whole community of friends.

Being in the Moment

In BJJ we do a lot of rolling and when you’re rolling, you’re attempting to submit your partner while trying not to get submitted. It’s exhausting. It takes all of your physical and mental power to compete in this human chess match. There is no room for any personal problems, stress at work or even any minor aches and pains. You have to be totally in the moment and present.

That’s what makes BJJ so much like meditation. When I am rolling I feel totally alive. I am not worried about anything else other than my opponent. Sometimes I even go to class not feeling 100%, but once once we start rolling, all the pain goes away. It’s almost therapeutic. It’s almost like you’re in a life and death situation, but in a controlled and safe environment. It’s an experience that’s hard to get anywhere else without actually putting yourself in real danger. 

It’s great exercise

One of the reasons I started training BJJ was because I was getting bored with my normal gym routine. Training BJJ is like no other workout because it is a total mind/body workout mixed with cardio. After a few weeks of training you’ll realize your cardio and ability to move has improved and even your strength. I realized this unexpectedly when I gave two different people hugs on the same day and they said I squeezed them too hard. It wasn’t on purpose. In BJJ we do a lot of squeezing, holding and controlling each others bodies and over time that squeezing starts to feel normal, but not on normal people who don’t train BJJ and aren’t used to what is often called a BJJ hug.

Progression

Another reason I started training was that I was bored in my life. I wanted to do something where I felt like I could see some improvement. Well, progression in BJJ is both fast and painfully slow. At first when you’re new there seems like so much to learn and you’ll never learn just the basics, but before you know it, you’re doing stuff you thought you’d never do.

When I got my first stripe on my white belt I was thrilled. It meant I was more than just the new guy who walked through the door. When I got my second stripe I was even more excited because it meant to me that my BJJ coach noticed my progress.

Stripes and belts are the way that you get promoted in BJJ and they are far and few in between so you have to have other internal factors motivating you to keep going and for me, it’s being better today than I was three months ago. Sure, I hope to have my blue belt this time next year and I’m going to work hard to get it, but when I look at how good I am today at BJJ compared to day 1, I can’t believe it’s only been a year. The guy I am today would destroy the guy I was on day 1 without breaking a sweat.

I can’t wait to see what the next year looks like and if you’re interested in learning a new sport, learning self defense and making new friends, I encourage you to find a good school and give BJJ a try. 

Stop Obsessing Over Your Ex

Stop Obsessing Over Your Ex

I used to have a really hard time getting over past relationships. I would find myself ruminating over the person, wondering if our breakup was a mistake and contemplating reaching out to see if we could try again.

That same thinking kept me in bad relationships for far too long and kept me stuck when I should have been moving on.

It wasn’t until I started doing therapy with clients who were in various degrees of anxiety and depression due to a break up that I started to realize that it’s not usually the person I was missing, but the idea of that person, the experiences and the feelings.

You Don’t Miss Them, You Miss The Idea of the Person

A woman once told me, and it was such a great line I don’t doubt that she heard it somewhere else before, perhaps in a movie, “You don’t want me, you want the idea of me.” At the time I thought she was totally wrong, but as I’ve grown and learned to understand myself and other people, I now know that she was absolutely right. I didn’t really know her, but I was attracted to her physically and had already become attracted to the idea of her being my person.

I was doing what most of us do subconsciously. We meet people and then make certain believes and assumptions about that person.

When we like someone, we tend to make them out to be this impossibly perfect person. Even when we notice their flaws we tend to justify, minimize or downright ignore them. This explains why we often ignore many red flags that signal someone isn’t good for us early in the dating process.

When this person starts not living up to who we created them to be in our minds, we tend to grow disappointed, unhappy and fall out of love because we start seeing the person for who they really are which often is in stark comparison to who we made them out to be.

Once the relationship ends, often we start remembering that person, not as the person they really were, but as the idealized person we created. We like to romanticize and we pick and choose memories that have strong, happy emotions over more unpleasant ones. We start missing that person, not as he or she was, but our idea of that person. Sometimes we even start missing the person we felt they could have been and not who they really were.

You Don’t Miss Them, You Miss The Way They Made You Feel

In our minds, we tend to downplay the more negative experiences and feelings. “Our fights weren’t that bad.” “Maybe I was just sensitive and he wasn’t a womanizer”. “He only yelled at me because he loved.”

This kind of thinking is sometimes called the Halo Effect. When you remember the good qualities of a person and minimize the negative. It’s partly why many people stay or go back to abusive relationships. It’s what makes it hard to separate from toxic people because they are usually really good at treating you special and then treating you like crap, putting you on a roller-coaster ride that can make you question your own sanity.

We start looking at pictures and remembering times when we were happy, smiling, having fun and madly in love with the person and pushing aside the things that weren’t so good and maybe were even awful about being with that person.

We miss the feeling of flutters in our heart that comes with being in love, of laying next to someone and talking all night long or holding hands, kissing and going out on dates. Suddenly, all the heartache they may have caused us doesn’t seem to hurt so bad.

If you don’t have friends or a journal to remind you of how terrible they treated you most of the time, it’s easy to fall back into missing how well they treated you every now and then.

It’s okay to miss people, but it’s not okay to miss anyone who used, abused or mistreated you. If you do, it means you need to take time for self-care and learn to embrace reality. You’re awesome and deserving of someone who will treat you better. It’s something I struggled to learn for a long time. It took understanding codependency and detachment for me to break that cycle.

You Don’t Miss Them, You’re Just Lonely

If you only miss the person when you’re lonely, then you don’t really miss the person. When we’re lonely, sometimes we think back to our past and wish we could lean on someone who isn’t there any more. We may even think we still love that person, but it’s not love it’s loneliness.

As humans, we don’t like to be alone, especially when we are dealing with problems. Sure, most of us like to have our space and time apart and some of us are really good at being alone, but most of us crave bonding, relating and socializing with other people from time to time. When you’re lonely, it’s easy to start longing for an ex because we wished we had someone.

Before you know it, you’re calling or texting that former flame or perhaps even worse, crying over that person, or should I say, the idea of that person.

If you don’t think about that person when you’re happy and having fun, perhaps wishing they were there to share the experience with, then you’re not still in love with them, you’re lonely.

You Don’t Miss Them, You Miss Who You Were With Them

When we think about our past with that person, the experiences and feelings we had together, it’s easy to believe that we are missing them when really we are missing the person we were when we were with them.

Just like we tend to idealize people and create versions of them that probably never existed, we do the same with our memories of them. Often, when we miss a person, what we really miss is how they affected us.

I used to ruminate on a particular woman I was in a relationship with and often times I missed the way she would make me laugh, or how we would go out on the weekend and paint the town red and I’d miss how we would sing love songs to each other. I minimized how drunk she sometimes go, how reckless she could be and how scarily volatile her moods were.

Once our relationship ended, I no longer had anyone to do those things with. I missed those feelings and I missed the person I was during those times because that person was a happier, more out going person than I was in reality.

I would find myself alone on a Friday night wishing I had someone to go out with and when I was out, I wished I had someone to sing off key love songs to. I didn’t really miss that particular woman, but the experiences, feelings and person I was in that relationship.

It is definitely possible to miss a person, but that is rarely the case. As humans, we’re so complicated with the way we torture ourselves by creating people, memories and emotions that aren’t always based on  reality.

Often we ruminate on people who don’t deserve our attention or energy.

Those same feelings and experiences we had with an ex, we can and will have with someone else if we allow ourselves to move on.                                                                      .

Why The Death of Kobe Bryant Hurts So Much

Why The Death of Kobe Bryant Hurts So Much

 

The tragic death of Kobe Bryant is a hard pill to swallow for many people and not just his fans or sports fans. I could go on and talk about all of his great accomplishments on and off the basketball court, but that’s not what this post is about.

One of the reasons his death is so shocking is because he was a relatively young person who had overcome the odds and created so much success in his life. He was one of the best basketball players of all time, a multimillionaire, a philanthropist and devoted father. He was just getting started on the second act of his life which looked just as promising as his first. He appeared to have everything and more to come. And then he was suddenly gone along with his daughter and several other precious lives.

The reason the world seems to take a collective pause when we lose our celebrities and heroes unexpectedly is because it reminds us of our own mortality. It reminds us that at any moment, we too could be snatched off of the face of the Earth without warning.

Many people become anxious and depressed at this thought. They have what many professionals call death anxiety. Instead of becoming anxious or depressed at this reality, we should embrace it and use it to remember to live each day to its fullest. To stop being afraid of life and to live it while we still can. To let go of grudges and move on. To appreciate our families, spouses and friends. To love and not hate. To not put off things until tomorrow because tomorrow is not promised. To let go of the past and live fully in the moment.

In her book, The Top Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bonnie Ware writes about the insights many people who are dying have had. The beautiful part about this is that we don’t have to be terminally ill or on our death beds to learn from these individuals clarity about life. Ware reports that the top five regrets of people who are dying are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”

  1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

  1. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

  1. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

As we celebrate the life of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and the seven other people killed in this tragic accident, let’s also vow to live a more fully, intentional life with less regrets.

Declutter To Improve Your Mental Health

Declutter To Improve Your Mental Health

Recently I observed a client’s home that was very cluttered, unorganized and messy. It wasn’t filthy, meaning it wasn’t something you’d see on an episode of Hoarders, but it definitely was chaotic. I also noticed that the two small children in the house appeared to run amok, the wife was frustrated and tense and the husband appeared overwhelmed and mentally checked out.

I suggested, as an experiment, that the couple clean up their home, get rid of toys and other items no longer in use and focus on making their house much more simplified and organized. I urged them to try this for a week, not allowing things to get out of hand once the house was clean so that cleaning in itself wouldn’t become another stress inducing task. What we found out during that week was almost a night and day difference.

The children, while still children and occasionally rough housing and dragging toys from one room to the other, weren’t nearly as hyper or overly stimulated as they had been. They appeared much calmer and threw less tantrums.

The mother also appeared happier, less stressed and admitted to spending more time around her kids and husband in the family room (because it was clean) instead of isolating herself in the bedroom.  The father was also more engaging with the family and more present.

The house was much calmer, quieter and in terms of energy, appeared lighter. The entire family appeared happier, less stress and less out of control and the parents vowed to attempt to continue living their lives in this more organized, decluttered state.

How Clutter Affects Your Mental Health

Clutter in itself can cause stress and be a symptom of feeling stressed or poor mental health. Cluttered environments are often a sign of cluttered minds. Also, when you are surrounded by clutter, you can start to feel overwhelmed, anxious, agitated, crowded and tense. Sometimes to the point where you feel like giving up on even attempting to get organized so you let the chaos build on itself or check out mentally.

This clutter not only affects you, but it can affect those around you such as your partner, your children, your friends and coworkers. Think about it. If you never invite people over to your house because you’re embarrassed, if neighbors are complaining about the junk in your yard or you can’t find that report you were working on because it’s lost among a thousand other papers, clutter is probably affecting you more than you realize it.

This doesn’t mean that you are a hoarder on a clinical level, but our physical space and how we choose to live in it is usually a reflection of who we are on the inside and too much clutter can be a sign of a lack of control and can worsen our mental health.

Where do you start

Judih Kolberg, chief organizer at FileHeads Professional Organizers suggest playing what she calls the “Friends, Acquaintances and Strangers Game”.

“As you go through your closets, drawers and big old storage containers, immediately get rid of the ‘strangers’, those items you definitely don’t want and, in some cases, might not even recognize. Donate ‘acquaintances’, useful items that just aren’t your favorites and are never used, to a thrift shop, and keep the true ‘friends’, the favorites you can’t live without”.

My advice is to start small. One room at a time, one drawer at a time and one item at a time. Solicit friends and family for help if you have to and in the end, don’t feel like you have to give up anything you really, truly don’t want to give up. Somethings have emotional value to us, even if they don’t to anyone else.

In the end, try to only keep things that bring positivity and joy into your life. Get rid of anything that brings no value or worse, negativity.

Clearing your space will definitely help clear your mind and improve your overall mental health.