Author: Matthew

And > But > Period :: One Way To Upgrade Your Conversations

So many people mean well.

They want to be kind.

They want some things to be different.

Many people use affirmation and “but” in trying to make things different (/better).

They something like: “I really like you and our relationship, but I need you to stop/start doing X.”

That’s problematic in that it’s kind of back-handed, maybe even manipulative.

*  *  *

For a long time, I thought the solution to the “but” problem was “and.”

“I really like you and I need you to start/stop doing X.”

It’s better, maybe, but it’s not ideal.

It’s still co-mingling affirmation and, sorta, condemnation.

Is there a better way?


*  *  *

Let the period be a pause.

Create space between the two ideas – the affirmation and the request.

It still makes sense to affirm someone (the-relationship) before asking for them do something differently.

It’s a higher quality request because it separates the two with some distinction.

Here it is in practice:

“I really appreciate how you are with me in relation to Y.

[pause, inhale, exhale (let the period be what it’s meant to be)]

Would you be willing to stop/start doing X?”

[stop, wait, be open to what comes up for the other; really be willing to listen to them… ]

*  *  *

This sort of communication requires awareness, right intention and a foundation of love (for yourself, the other and the relationship).

It’s not something that will work in every situation.

It’s definitely not something that you try with everyone.

It is reserved, at least at first, and perhaps mostly, for certain relationships – relationships that are fundamentally healthy (and that are ripe for growth and evolution).

Stagnation > Transformation > Evolution

I’m in the Transformation Story business – to go from where you are to who you want to be.

I help my clients to create transformations in their lives.

In Life we’re in one of three modes: Stagnation, Transformation or Evolution.

Stagnation is where most people are. They’re stuck (but don’t know it). They’re reacting to life. Worst of all they think if they play it safe they’ll be okay – but they’re falling behind. Things happen to people who are stagnating.

Transformation is where you realize there’s more: more you can do and more you can be. It can be a unsettled, possibly scary, place – unless you have help, a skilled guide. I help my clients to successfully navigate from where they are to where they want to be. They achieve goals that matter, earn more money, have more energy and more time for the people that matter.

Evolution is rare air. It’s the space where someone who has transformed continues their growth. They continue to experiment and learn. Their world expands and their confidence grows. Learning, growing, achieving, serving is the norm. They don’t have problems or stress, everything is just an outcome, or information – things happen for Evolvers.

Are you ready to go from Stagnant to Transforming? And ultimately, to Evolving?

Click here to set a time for a Free Learning Session and let’s talk about writing your Transformation > Evolution story.

Default vs Intentional






The Usual.

So much of what we do is out of habit. It’s routine. It’s just the way we do it.

There’s good reason for how this happens and why.

We’re built to create and use routines and habits.

It’s efficient. It leaves room to focus on threats and survival.

It’s primitive.


We no longer live in a world of scarce food and water. Saber-tooth tigers no longer threaten our daily existence.

Yet, we still have a primitive neuro-biology but with a modern addition: the prefrontal cortex.

I’m not going to go into our brain structure and that it has primitive bits and a modern part (I’ve written about that plenty, and will so again).

What I am going to wrote about is the thought I just had. It’s later morning and I just asked myself:

“How am I going to use this afternoon? What am I going to accomplish?”

Just that pause unlocks so much. No more am I at the mercy of my habits and routines – my default life. (I’m choosing to engage the modern part of my brain: the prefrontal cortex.)

I can choose – consciously – to create my afternoon.

To accomplish things that matter to me.

And it’s all because I shifted from default to intention, with one question.

Are You In The Cheap Seats of Life?

Imagine life is a concert.

Where’s your seat?

Are you in the middle of the lower level, about 30 or so rows back (one of the best places to hear music)?

Or are you way back? In one of the last rows, tucked in the corner?

Perhaps you’re not even inside the venue!?  Maybe you’re around the side, with your ear pressed to the building, hoping to hear some of the sound bleeding through the walls?

Maybe, even, you’re home, sitting in your chair, thinking “The heck with that! I don’t need to deal with the crowds, and parking and paying all that money just to watch something I can see on my TV at home.”

True. You don’t have to leave your house to watch a really good facsimile of live music.

But it’s not the same.

Remember how I asked you to imagine life was a concert?

Well, it sorta is.

To live a full, vibrant and engaged life, you must get out of the house.

You must be willing to pay the price of admission.

You must do the work.

Then, and only then, can you choose your seat.

You can choose sit in the front row of the mezzanine, where the sound is decent, you have an overhead view of the patrons and the performers aren’t too far away.

You can sit in the wonderful spot on the lower level, say 10 rows in front of the sound board (there’s a reason why it’s there, and why you want to sit a few rows in front of it . . . ) and get the best sound while not being too far from the stage.

Or you can sit up front where the truly dedicated fans are, the folks who just have to be as close as possible to the creation of the music. The live, spontaneous creation of something magical, just a few feet away.

Or you can be on the periphery of life, the guy outside with his ear pressed to the side of the building, hoping to hear something, anything.

Choose well. Get a ticket and get inside. Do the work and earn of one the good seats and really enjoy the show, I mean life.

Understanding The Brain & Mind – A Five-Layer Model

How we use our brain and mind is fundamental to our experience of  life.

Both our day-to-day experience and our overall level of achievement and fulfillment are directly tied to how we think and feel.

And how we use our brain and mind is how we think and feel.

*  *  *

I’ve studied the brain and mind (why I keep distinguishing between the two is important and useful, and will be explained below) for some time. I deeply believe that the level of our understanding of how our thoughts and emotions are created, through how our neuro-biology processes stimuli – and what we do with that understanding– is our experience of life.

But it’s complicated.

And it’s simple.

First the simple: Thoughts create Emotions, Emotions create your Actions, and Actions are your life.

But how? Exactly . . . ?

That’s where the complicated comes in.

Our basic neuro-biology is optimized for 1) fast processing of stimuli, 2) stimuli filtering and 3) survival.

On top of that, humans added a part to our brain that allows us to think about our thoughts and ponder and ruminate and wonder and  . . . .

*  *  *

Our current model of the brain is of three parts: the brain stem (the oldest part of our brain, usually referred to as the Reptilian Brain), the limbic system (otherwise known as the Emotional Brain) and the newest region: the Cortex (or Prefrontal Cortex).

As physical descriptions go, it’s apt. It even differentiates the different functions of the brain (generally).

But it doesn’t really talk about the mind or relevant functions.

That’s where my Five-Layer Model comes in.

Understanding the different layers will help us to use our brain and mind better, and live better.

In future posts I will go into more detail about each layer, optimization and overall integration.

*  *  *

1) The Brain

Meaning, the actual tissue, chemicals/proteins/hormones and electrical activity of the organ in our heads.

The brain processes stimuli, stores memories and creates thoughts.

Key ways to optimize functioning are proper rest and nutrition and regular periods of (intentional) mindfulness (i.e. meditation).

2) Instinctual Reactions

As I said above, we are, physically, optimized for survival. Not too long ago (evolutionarily speaking), life was harsh and exacting and dangerous. The humans that were vigilant and processed threat stimuli quickly and accurately lived. Those that didn’t, didn’t.

Our five senses are continually monitored by our limbic system and, unconsciously (i.e. very, very quickly) processed. Any stimulus that seems to be a threat triggers our sympathetic nervous system and engages our fight/flight/freeze reaction.

3) Habitual Patterns

Our brain is optimized, through evolution, for efficiency and speed.

Unfortunately this comes at the expense of accuracy and distinction.

Beyond basic processing of stimuli, our limbic system is a pattern-matcher. It monitors our environment and prefers speed over examination. It quickly matches stimuli to similar-seeming things in its memory– i.e., our subconscious.

Much of what we do is living out habits. Habits are efficient. They allow for life functions to continue, while allowing for the constant, un-ceasing, never-ending, always-happening (did make my point there?) monitoring of our environment for threats.

The trouble is, our memories, our patterns, can be flawed.

If you wonder why you react “the same durn way” to things, it because for given stimuli, or events, you have memories of having dealt with that– and here’s the kicker!– in a way that didn’t kill you.

I say “here’s the kicker” because the part of your brain that favors efficiency and speed doesn’t do well with understanding what’s resourceful in a modern world.

We have neuro-biological systems that are still optimized for survival in a physically dangerous, and often cold, and often bereft, world.

That’s how something that doesn’t kill you is seen as functional and ideal.

What to do?

How to optimize?

First, develop a habit of curiosity with your behavior and life. Start to wonder how you could be creating non-ideal moods and patterns and habits.

Second, find ways to quiet your mind (not silence it . . . ) and develop greater awareness of your moment-by-moment consciousness (i.e. meditation).

Finally, develop small, tiny, ever-so-slight* changes that you can make, that you practice regularly, so you can interrupt your habitual patterns and install new, resourceful responses.

4) Thought

This layer is interesting. and it’s the first one that is basically “logical” and not mostly or purely physical.

Our thoughts are the emotional and intellectual content of our minds.

I don’t know how to differentiate between emotion and thoughts at this level other than to say that they’re separate and inextricably linked.

Also, “thought” is what we’re actually aware of – the difference between our conscious mind (a low percentage of overall processing) and our sub-conscious (most of our brain/mind complex).

Thoughts are the things you “know” or can “think about,” consciously.

You use thoughts to plan and set goals and have conversations and choose** and reason.

5) The Observer

This is the cool one. The one only humans have (as far as we know . . . ). The one that is very powerful.

The Observer is our ability to notice and see our thoughts.

The ability to view our emotional and cognitive life from “above.”

From a vantage point that allows us to understand the functioning and processing and outputs of our entire neuro-biology– to notice and appreciate everything from physical sensations; to our reactions when stressed; our patterns and habits that keep happening, to the way we make sense of our lives with our thoughts and (this is a BIG one for humans:) how we make meaning.

Imagine The Observer is wise, patient, loving friend who is always there for you, ready to help you make sense of things and help you to understand and improve and optimize– if you will only acknowledge its existence and choose to engage.

Again, as with all things brain/mind, the way to optimize is to become mindful, and increase your ability to be present in any given moment (which, again, means some form of meditation).

*  *  *

I hope the preceding has been useful.

I hope it has given you some insight into how our neuro-biology works, and what you can do to be in harmony with what is.

There are two main sources of suffering in the world: 1) Ignorance (not knowing knowable things and/or how they work) and 2) Resistance (refusing to think/feel/act in accordance with how things work/are and thus creating friction, strife, chaos, wasted time/effort,  . . . ).

You now have some basic knowledge on how your neuro-biology works. It’s up to you take intelligent – and authentic – action.


* Your changes must be small and gentle so as to not activate your survival instinct. Remember, your limbic system views “didn’t-kill-me” as functional and preferable over anything unknown.

** With a huge assist from your memories and emotions.