Love Your Caustic Self-Talk in 3 Easy Steps


When critical self-talk arrives, its message is rarely welcome. Little surprise. Acid-laced quips like “How can you be so stupid?”, “Wow – so typical of an idiot like you!” and “Give up, loser!” score low as great conversation openers. It may seem an impossible task to find silver linings in sentiments like these, yet – as you’ll see – it is possible to welcome, appreciate and even love our caustic self-talk.

Our usual response to caustic self-talk takes one of three forms:

  • put up your dukes and defend yourself from unfair accusations;
  • run for cover and distract yourself with less stressful pursuits;
  •  take it squarely on the chin and concede the critique as fact.

The problem with these responses is they do nothing to temper or transform the cantankerous relationship we have with our caustic self-talk. There’s no room for negotiation, developing understanding or collaborating on positive outcomes. Even with the wealth of strategies out there for sorting out the most challenging differences between individuals and groups, we still tend to see our adversarial relationship with our caustic self-talk as “the way it is”; a fait-accompli we’re each sentenced to accept grudgingly through all our days.

I’ve developed a 3-step process that’s been effective in creating constructive – and yes, even loving – relationships with our caustic self-talk. Take a few short minutes and try it for yourself.


Start changing how you relate to your caustic self-talk by visualizing the source of those corrosive words. Get as detailed a picture as possible:

  1. recall a recent example of your caustic self-talk. Focus on hearing it speaking in your head, noting its quality and tone. Is it icily sardonic or jaggedly aggressive? Is it a familiar voice from your past or a snarl from nightmare realms? If the voice you hear sounds like your own, allow more time to let it develop a distinctive character. Give it room to take on a life of its own;
  2. ask yourself : “ “Who – or what – is speaking?” “What would someone – or something – with a voice like that look like?”
  3. allow time for your nemesis to come into view. If you find you’re staring yourself in the face, take a few moments and ask yourself “What would this nemesis look like if it wasn’t me?” “If I were going to a Halloween party dressed as this nemesis, what would my costume look like?”

3 Types of Nemesis

When I walk clients through this step, one of three types of nemesis appears:

Franken-strosities: these most resemble the monsters in children’s nightmares: needle-clawed rat-mutants and venomous winged worms give you the general idea.
Disembodied Spectres: these nemeses resist being observed directly: looming shapes, bottomless voids and dark nothingness.
Authoritarian Figures: parental and authority figures are particularly common when self-talk is laced with imperatives like “must”, “should” and “have-to”.

Whatever their form, these 3 types of nemesis share one common characteristic: their ability to pack an emotional punch geared to grab your attention and trigger an immediate reaction.


The nemeses my clients describe remind me of the titular character from The Wizard of Oz. When we first meet the wizard, he appears as a fearsome floating head framed in flames and fury – a potent mix of Franken-strosity and Disembodied Spectre, seasoned with a dash of authoritarian parental figure. Only later do we learn this apparition is a sham: an elaborate contrivance controlled by a hidden puppeteer.

Take a second look at that nemesis of yours. Take a virtual walk around it. Give its metaphorical tires a kick. You’ll see that its imposing countenance is actually no more substantial than the wizard’s fiery head.

In the Land of Oz, the hidden puppeteer is revealed simply by pulling aside a curtain. You can do the same thing with your nemesis: pull aside the curtain right now and meet the puppeteer closeted within.


If your experience is anything like that of my clients, the identity of your hidden puppeteer will come as a complete surprise. Your hidden puppeteer might be a baby or puppy, a flower bud or duckling. Whatever its form, you’re more than likely face to face with something small, vulnerable and irresistible cute; a presence that, on its own, would never command the fear and tyranny wielded by its formidable nemesis persona.

Why does a baby cry? A puppy whine? No one would ever describe these sounds as pleasant or soothing, yet the reactions they stimulate are very different from those of putting up your dukes, running and hiding, or just taking it on the chin. On the contrary, our usual reaction is to do whatever we can to ease the sufferer’s distress. While these sounds undoubtedly involve us, they’re clearly not about us.


The most powerful resource your hidden puppeteer has is its ability to provoke strong emotions. Like any baby or puppy, it uses this ability whenever it experiences discomfort to monopolize your attention and redirect your behaviour. Learning to respond with love and caring to calls of distress from our hidden puppeteer makes life easier for our selves. It can also bring unanticipated benefits as well.

Many of my clients have been surprised to discover that making peace with their hidden puppeteer reduces their caustic self-talk substantially. And there’s an added bonus: given time, their hidden puppeteer matures! In place of interrupting with button-pushing generalizations, self-talk now arrives bearing constructive inspiration with “out-of-the-blue” suggestions and solutions. Learning to love our caustic self-talk, it turns out, offers a powerful doorway to change. With it we can re-channel once-endless bouts of inner conflict towards common purpose; shared goals to which we and our hidden puppeteer can both wholeheartedly commit.

Rap on Rapport

Rap on Rapport

Success and happiness falter with failed attempts to connect effectively – to create rapport. Learn and practice the skill of rapport in daily life.

Obstacles to success and happiness often begin as unsuccessful attempts to connect effectively – to create rapport. As the ensuing problems accumulate, our attention shifts away from this initial inability to connect; dwelling instead on details about the latest missed commitment or subtle put-down. Over time, solution-oriented questions such as “How can we work together?” are replaced with barrier-building judgments like “Us? Work together?”. In situations like this, problems continue to escalate as attention stays fixed on the cascade of unwelcome results rather than the initial disconnect.

Rapport is a skill that can be learned, practiced, and integrated into daily life. We experience it as a profound sense of connection emerging from deep congruencies in feelings, understandings, and interests. Rapport surges through crowded stadiums in electrifying waves of affinity. It arises within each of us as values, goals, and actions align. Rapport enables skilled improvisers – athletes, musicians, and comedians – to perform with ease and harmony. It creates the bond ensuring commitments are met; securing the trust and compassion needed to avert critical challenges. Rapport changes how our perceptions and feelings form; replacing guarded mistrust and frustration with open curiosity and fulfillment.

Rapport isn’t about our success and happiness: rapport is our success and happiness.



Some things we have complete control over.  Others we have none.  Most of the time, the amount of control we actually have isn’t what’s most important, it’s our perception of control that counts.
  A toddler’s need for empowerment might be satisfied by toppling a tower of blocks or reinventing banana purée as face cream. Hospital patients can bolster their resilience to treatment by having control over such simple things as caring for a plant or setting their own visiting hours. Our perception of how much control we have in our lives directly effects both our physical health and mental equilibrium. Stripped of it we’re left susceptible to depression and catastrophizing.

“Who cares about chemistry, physics, and all that natural stuff?  Rust’s really all about me!”

It’s the rare individual who’s never given the finger to bad weather or some other “cause” of their “really crummy day”. But blame games come at a cost.  A couple of years ago I saw a car license plate that’s stuck with me: IH8RUST.  “I hate rust”.  Sure, the inevitable collapse of automotive products into heaps of rust can seem like a real shame – so long as you don’t make your living running an auto body shop.  Still, taking that extra step of making it personal casts you squarely in the role of powerless victim. While waving your fist at the sky may feel good for the moment, in the end you lose three times over:

  • first, in feeding your sense of powerlessness (doesn’t it also suck that we can’t spontaneously fly or reverse time?);
  • secondly, in failing to develop appreciation for your real spheres of influence (like maintaining anti-rust treatments for starters);
  • and thirdly, in blinding yourself to the staggering debt of gratitude we all owe to the phenomena of water and steel doing what comes naturally (take a minute to consider the likelihood of life actually existing on earth if it were otherwise).

That said, the benefits and liabilities we can attribute to our perception of control don’t correspond easily to any sort of “reality/illusion” quotient. A cancer patient given a 10% chance of survival certainly could be considered a realist in giving up on remission, even though research has shown time and again that this kind of acceptance reduces chances of recovery even further.  Anyone who’s witnessed the beating of daunting odds will tell you there’s an aspect of personal determination that can completely pop the suggestion that our perceptions serve us best when they correspond to “reality”.

A few years ago I coached a woman undergoing cancer treatment.  She was facing exactly that 10% chance of survival.  “The doctors”, she told me repeatedly throughout her treatment, “are wrong.  I am going to beat this.” Over the following year there were many times when I though she was wearing the proverbial rose-tinted glasses. In retrospect, she was sporting welding goggles.  Her resolve was white hot.  Sure, she still experienced moments of intense fear.  These, it turned out, always happened at transitional points between treatments when next appointments or steps were left unclear. Recognizing these episodes as instances of a perceived loss of control was sufficient for this woman to bridge her anxiety and snap her welding glasses back in place.  And the results?  A year later there was not a trace of cancer found in her body – and its been that way now for 4 years.

The next time you catch yourself waving a fist at the sky, take a minute to find one thing, however small, you truly believe you can control in the situation.  It might just change your life.

For more on the value of focusing on small changes, check out Call Me “Trim Tab”.

Closure for Head Bangers

Ever feel like you’re banging your head against a wall? There’s something you’d give anything to get over – some problematic relationship, unfinished business or self- damaging behaviour – and you just can’t get where you want to be? Consider the following:

 “I can imagine my life as a corridor lined with doors on either side. Some doors open to good things; others I need to close and move on”.

Closing a door is a simple skill most of us practice daily; easy to identify with and clear in its result. Familiar and effective. Imagine using this metaphor in a typical conversation with a 17th century Inuit grandmother – how far could you reasonably expect to get?

Ubiquity: Take the next fifteen minutes and call everyone you know to see if anyone doesn’t get it: “What do you mean; you want to close that door on that part of your life? Want door?” This metaphor is so ingrained that it, in turn, spawns other metaphors. Consider the “closing the door” inference in the following from a woman who lost a relative in the Oklahoma City bombing: “There is no such thing as closure for people who lost family in the bombing. The only closure is when they close the lid on my casket.”

Beliefs: We confabulate close bonds between words according to how they sound. Brett Pelham’s paper, Why Susie Sells Sea Shells by the Seashore, suggests our inordinately high tendency to forge associations of this type in key areas of our lives: the work we do, partners we seek, and places we live. The number of dentists named Dennis, couples named John and Jane, and men named Louis living in St. Louis are disproportionately high. “Closure” and “closing a door”: it’s hard not to believe they are one.

Viscosity: Metaphors, like stereotypes and characterizations, draw power from their ambiguity and malleability of meaning. When we talk of closing the door on an episode, what exactly is the door? Our emotions? Another person’s actions? A sequence of events? The slippery nature of metaphor can give us the impression of meaningful engagement at the very moment we don blinders and stumble out into the night.

It’s inevitable that we’ll use some sort of metaphor to describe closure – that’s the nature of language. Question is, does the metaphor deliver? Going by the grief, stress, and sense of futility witnessed daily, the most optimistic answer appears to be “maybe”. Another way to judge the value of the “closing door” metaphor is to consider it in the light of other alternatives. What if we were to remodel the metaphor? Let’s say the door still works, but the “corridor” concept has to go. Each door opened leads into a new space – perhaps a room or stairway; maybe even another corridor. This space too is lined with doors. Let’s add a few archways and vestibules for good measure. The point is you keep moving forward; your starting place receding in relevance. M.C. Escher’ s Relativity (1953) depicts the idea perfectly:


Another alternative would be to make comparisons with entirely different metaphors for life. Consider Life as a Book, in which adversities may be overcome by turning a new page and starting a new chapter. Contemporary variants might include Life as Mario (go down a new warp pipe; win a new level) and Life as a Blog (conceive a new thought; publish a new post). These may all be variations on Life as a Story; an approach explored by Dan McAdams in his paper The Psychology of Life Stories. On the further reaches of this approach, we might consider including Gestalt Therapy’s Law of Closure, whereby our minds fill in the blanks (i.e.: complete the narratives) of patterns we perceive as regular figures (i.e.: simple visual stories). How easy is it not to see a circle and a square in the image below?


Here’s another one: Life as a Circle. Presented in the guise of the seasons, aging, biorhythms, or just straight out two-dimensional geometry, the circle may well be the mother of all life metaphors. Adversities are simply part of the deal, with renewal offering redemption through new beginnings tempered by anything from changing circumstances and songs of experience to just plain old good luck. The real power of the circle as metaphor resides in linking the final moment to the first. “How did I get here?” “What do I do this time round?” Popular variations on the circle are the coil and the spiral, with their mathematical sibling the Fibonacci number sequence.

Or consider Life as Flora. The most familiar metaphor of this type is used to illustrate families – either ancestral or evolutionary: the tree. Try revamping this metaphor into a more personally relevant form. What, in your own life experience, are your branches? Who, of the people around you, comprise your wind, gravity, rain and sunshine? What kind of a tree are you? Why do you have leaves? Do they fall? Why? Where is your ideal growing environment? When do your buds flower? What adversities do you weather? How?

Or you might want to take the metaphor in an entirely different direction, as did Charles Darwin with this sketch for the evolutionary tree of life:

Let’s switch gears completely and consider Life as an Axis of Polarities. Think of a teeter-totter with Dick Cheney sitting on one end and the Dalai Lama on the other. As Dick goes up, so too does our need for certainty. As the Dalai Lama ascends, so does our ability to embrace ambiguity. According to the Need for Closure Scale, each of us has our own variation on this scenario playing within. Fear and stress cause Dick to rise up, while compassion and curiosity buoy the Dalai Lama. Ironically, studies indicate that Dick is least likely to be bothered by the need for closure. The first rationale he encounters – some variant of “Pure Evil” usually does the trick – is enough to get the ball rolling. The Dalai Lama, in contrast, is more concerned with looking at his dilemmas from as many sides as possible, lessening his chances for a quick fix and raising the likelihood that he will be – according to Barry Schwartz – less satisfied with his eventual conclusion:

An alternative to searching for viable life metaphors may be found in the countless traditions and practices fostering greater self awareness. Drop the notion of “closure” completely and delve into approaches promoting a positive, forward-moving frame of mind. Here are a couple of needles that I’ve found particularly productive from three of the many self- knowledge haystacks:

Meditation: Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was one of many Buddhist ambassadors to make a profound impact on the western perception of the goals and implications of meditation. You can preview one of his introductions to the practice on- line in the first chapter of his book The Myth of Freedom.

Neuroscience: How does the physical structure and functioning of our bodies affect our perceptions, feelings and thoughts? Which parts of ourselves we can change; which are written in stone? The revelations and implications coming out of the labs and studies of neuroscience for questions like this are – if you haven’t yet heard – astounding. Daniel Goleman’s writings on emotional intelligence – particularly Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ – remain essential reading in this area. Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself, opens startling vistas on developments in one area of applied neuroscience: neuroplasticity.

Psychology:. David Burns’ Feeling Good is one of the most informative and practical books using cognitive psychology, and transactional analysis – beginning with Eric Berne’s work (try Games People Play) – is well worth investigating. Theramin Trees has posted a great series on transactional analysis, beginning with Transactional Analysis 1: ego states & basic transactions. Connections between the many routes to self-awareness are spelled out in Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis, reframing some of the more perplexing challenges we face through adversity. Haidt’s highly informative web site for the book includes free .pdf versions of full chapters along with other great resources. Please do check it out.

One of the greatest appreciations to be gained through both metaphor and self-awareness is that of the interconnectivity between people, perspectives, actions, and all those other things we all to often label off into isolated silos. “Ending things”, our pigeonholing habit insists, “and beginning things are two completely different things.” But is this necessarily so? Rather than focusing on the product of a particular set of actions – “this is the end; this, the beginning” – see if you can keep your eye on the processes of which they are a part and with which they intersect. Beginnings have roots; endings seed. Which offers the better opportunity for growth?

This article was inspired by the University of the Street Café event Living in Transition: When closure is all we need, why is it so hard to just “let go”? on February 16, 2010 in Montreal. Much thanks to all who participated in the stimulating conversation.

The Secret of “YES!”

The Secret of "YES!"Once upon a time I thought that using the word “yes” was pretty straight forward: if I agreed, I’d say “yes”.  If not: “no”.  Shortly after signing on for comedy improv lessons I began to see that “yes” had a second, secret identity that I used every day without a second thought.

To experience the power of this secret identity, try the following exercise next time you’re chatting with a friend on the phone: stay quiet. Don’t punctuate the things they say with the usual “uh-huh …”, “yep …” and “ mm …”.  When they come to the end of what they’re saying, don’t utter a word. Any bio-anthropologist or psychologist worth their salt will tell you that our need for acknowledgement far outweighs our need for approval. If you’ve ever been roped into a game of “Schlemiel” you’ll know exactly what I mean*. Here’s how “Schlemiel”  is played:

Ever been host to a terminally clumsy guest? Someone who repeatedly spills drinks, walks into lamps, shares inappropriate observations, sabotages conversational flows or wanders around with a foot permanently embedded in their mouth?  You smile, forgive and play the whole thing down until the strain builds with each new infraction and you feel forced to confront the offender.  This is your offender’s moment of glory.  Up to then, you’ve been giving approval: “That’s OK – it was just an accident.” Now you’re delivering the juicy goods: your acknowledgement.

Back to your friend on the phone – who’s probably having a panic attack by now.  Chances are those “uh-huhs”, “yeps” and “ mm-ms” they’ve been missing have very little to do with you approval and everything to do with your acknowledgement.  Time to end the exercise now – and best of luck mending that breach in your rapport!

Take a moment to consider how this secret identity of “yes” – it’s unsung role as a means of acknowledgement – connects with something happening in your life right now.  What’s one small thing you could do today to have your “yeses” open deeper relationships with those around you?  Keeping an ear open to when you say “yes”, and considering how it might be understood can be two very fruitful starting points.


* For more on “Schlemiel” and other games, check out Eric Berne’s Games People Play. For a highly readable and paradigm-shifting introduction to the role of acknowledgement with a bio-anthropological perspective, check out Robin Dunbar’s Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language.


The Braid Bunch

We’re born into a community of individuals – OK, let’s call it a family – in which each individual trundles through life with particular sets of needs, expectations and values. According to Eric Berne, father of Transactional Analysis, this baggage tends to be passed through succeeding generations in a predictable pattern:

  • Mothers develop their needs, expectations and values through their relationship with their fathers and express them with their sons;
  • Fathers develop the same through their relationship with their mothers, expressing them with their daughters.

If you are a woman, Berne suggests, take a look at your father’s mom and see if there is anything you recognize in yourself. Men can do the same with their mother’s dad. For a clearer sense of the good, the bad and the ugly in the qualities you are probably seeking in a mate, take a close look at the other grandparent in this same couple.

There’s good news if you spotted anything you’d rather not have seen: recognizing these kinds of patterns is the first step to doing things differently.  Welcome to the world of choice!

Telling Tales

Stories are perhaps the most effective way of passing cultural values across generations. Try imagining the concepts of “good” and “evil” playing out in quite the same way without the Tanakh, the Bible, or the Qur’an. How much imagination does it take to appreciate the influence of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse on our notions of ingenuity, persistence, honour – and humour?

Beyond teaching us what and how to value, storytelling familiarizes us with the process of creating meaning. Through stories we learn to expect significant connections between experiences, characters, ideas and objects. Here are a few situations in which we use this “meaning making” process:

  • Creating personal boundaries to set acceptable limits with strangers, acquaintances and intimates;
  • Formulating personal goals – love and happiness arguably the two biggies – as structures that:
    • require the “correct” assembly of specific components and conditions, and;
    • eliminate undesirable experiences, such as loneliness and suffering.
  • Expecting concurrences between our intentions and the actual interpretation our words and actions receive from others;
  • Constructing self-identities by distinguishing between that of which we are a part and that from which we are apart;
  • Establishing privileges and obligations by accumulating social, professional and private credentials.
  • Taking the next step in our lives according to the narrative logic of our “life story”.

End Self-Sabotage

If you’ve ever been on a team in a tug-of-war, you know what it’s like to expend tremendous amounts of energy without moving an inch. Self-sabotage is a tug-of-war within yourself; two sides pulling in opposing directions and getting nowhere. Now imagine how quickly you would get somewhere if both teams were pulling in the same direction.



Self-sabotage happens when a conscious intention clashes with an unconscious need. If you’ve ever caught yourself saying something like “I don’t know what came over me”, or “I’m just not myself”, or “one part of me wants … while another part wants …” you’ve experienced self-sabotage. The expectations you have of yourself were at cross-purposes with your behaviour.

Here’s another example: say you want to earn more money, but that desire clashes with your self-image as a good parent or partner. The logic goes like this: earn more money = do more work = spend more time working = less time with family. You may consciously realize that “earn more money” does not necessarily equal “less time with family”. You may have friends or colleagues setting clear examples of how “earn more money” does not equal “less time with family”. You may not even be consciously aware that, for you, “earn more money” equals “less time with family” – you just can’t get going on earning more money; perhaps rationalizing it as an example of laziness, disorganization, lack of conviction, or inclination to procrastinate.

Ending self-sabotage not only aligns what you want with what you do; it reduces the cycle of negative self-talk discouraging your self-appreciation and confidence to move forward in all areas of your life.


Self-sabotage is your unconscious mind’s main way of ensuring you do not break one of your deeply held beliefs or values. The behaviour resulting from self-sabotage may cause disappointment, confusion, or havoc in your life; still it begins with a positive intention to stay true to something that matters greatly. By reconciling this clash between your conscious and unconscious intentions, you can eliminate self-sabotage and allow all of you to pull in the same direction.


For over three decades, NLP has been used by luminaries such as Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Tiger Woods, Bill Gates, and Barrack Obama. NLP integrates desired emotional and behavioural responses to overcome challenges ranging from corrosive self-talk and poor self-management to chronic performance failure and debilitating phobias. NLP focuses on how thoughts are unconsciously constructed and elicited. In addressing self-sabotage, NLP methodologies and tools can be used to quickly reframe counterproductive assumptions and strategies, overcoming self-defeating perceptions and behaviours.

Ending self-sabotage typically involves a single in-person session lasting from 15 to 45 minutes in which you are lead thorough a series of visualizations and questions. This process provides you with new understandings into the roots of your self-sabotage and clear insight as to how you will accomplish the outcome your want.

For more on how NLP can help you end self-sabotage, drop me a line at or call (438) 288-6569.

Case Study: Ground Zero

Last week I received an email from Karine, a colleague from my years at Softimage.  In her mail she asked a simple, brilliant question: “How does one go from working at Softimage to becoming a life coach?”. The answer to this question is a story I’ve told a few times but never written down – until now:

Hi Karine,

Thanks for your great email. You’re right, it is pretty amazing to see people move from one kind of work to a completely different area.  I was really surprised a few years ago when I saw that Michael Smith – who I was still thinking of as a Softimage Program Manager– had become a shepherd.

In my case, it was at Softimage that I had my first big recognition setting me on the path to coaching. I realized that what I loved most was working with other people to come up with solutions to challenging situations. At Softimage, these situations always involved a technical challenge – helping clients with a workaround, simplifying processes for sharing knowledge and assets, and creating on-line resources for clients, colleagues, partners and vendors.

After leaving Softimage, my work again involved resolving technical issues. The roots of these challenges, however, were in the area of interpersonal dynamics. Differences of terminology, goals and cultures between teams and departments were getting in the way of fulfilling project requirements. In some cases, these differences led to interpersonal animosities. When this happened, I became the default go-between for aligning operational goals and needs with the rest of the company. This experience led to a second key realization: that I was good at and enjoyed handling interpersonal dynamics. The technical issues had been, for me, a pretext for building solutions with others.

Shortly after I had this realization, my 15-year-old daughter came to live with me full time. This was when I had perhaps the most important realization of all: that I was not an expert on a shockingly vast number of things that come up in life. My daughter was dealing with some challenges that were outside my experience; things that neither I nor any professional could resolve. So I came clean: I told my daughter I had no idea what to do, and that together we would figure out solutions that were best for her.

And we did.

After a bit of time, friends began remarking on the positive changes happening both for my daughter and myself. They began speaking to me about challenges they were facing, and asking for my feedback. Eventually their friends were calling me, asking if I could help them too. Somewhere along the line I came across the term “coaching” and realized that it described exactly the approach I was using. And the calls continued.

In the last year and a half much of my work outside of coaching clients has been in answer to a fourth realization: that it was time to develop my professional credentials and contacts. This has been a period of certification and growing community connection. I completed coach certification with Concordia University and the International Coach Federation, and NLP certification with the Association for Integrative Psychology. I’ve also had some great opportunities for developing professional partnerships with coaching colleagues, and earlier this year I had the good fortunate to be invited to join the administrative committee of the International Coach Federation Québec.

Et voilà: that’s one way to go from working at Softimage to becoming a personal/life coach J.

Thanks for asking about my path to becoming a coach. I hope my answer helps you to see how some changes that seem big on the surface follow a very consistent route at their core.

All the best,


While preparing this post, Michael Smith sent me a couple of great links about his experience that I’d like to pass on:

You can also visit the website for Michael’s farm La Ferme au bonheur des prés.

Nature / Nurture / Practice

Nature / Nurture / Practice

I was stunned by the man’s resource.

“It’s brain,” I said; “pure brain! What do you do to get like that, Jeeves? I believe you must eat a lot of fish, or something. Do you eat a lot of fish, Jeeves?”

“No, sir.”

“Oh, well, then, it’s just a gift, I take it; and if you aren’t born that way there’s no use worrying.”

“Precisely, sir,” said Jeeves.

– P.G. Wodehouse, Leave It to Jeeves


According to George Bartzokis, professor of neurology at UCLA, P.G. Wodehouse’s spectacularly inept raconteur Bertie Wooster is right on the money when it comes to the advantages furnished by frequent feedings on our fishy friends. Bartzokis proposes that the acquisition of both cognitive and behavioural abilities depends upon development of myelin, a neural insulator whose growth is promoted by fatty acids such as are found in breast milk – and fish. Perhaps you noticed the current craze for Omega-3 fatty acids? This is one of the health effects now being attributed to them.

For acquiring abilities, Bartzokis’ adds a third factor to the familiar “Nature / Nurture” dichotomy: “Practice”. “Nature”, you’ll remember, is what your gene pool stuck you with. “Nurture” is what your parent(s) did to you. “Practice” is what you’ve trained yourself to do: your “habits”, “routines” or “talents” – call them what you will.
NNP Triangle To find out more about the “Nature/Nurture/Practice” trichotomy, the role myelin plays in our acquisition of abilities, and ways we can all develop the sort of resources Bertie Wooster might only dote upon at a distance, check out Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code.  You’ll find related resources at