Is the World Good or Bad?

Wellness isn’t just about the body, because Lord knows our bodies will have a hard time being healthy and resilient if our minds are troubled, or simply inflexible. One of the fundamental ways our minds get in the way of our own success is the blind spot. It’s a belief, attitude or value that’s determining our behavior though we may not be fully aware of it. In coaching we call that an Underlying Automatic Belief (UAB). Maybe you’ve been brought up to believe that men are smarter than women, or past experience tells you that exercise is sheer drudgery. Through the coaching process, a self-limiting belief can be brought to the surface, challenged, and reconsidered.

We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are. – The Talmud

I’ve been following the terrific blog of Jer Clifton who’s writing his master’s thesis at U Penn’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology program. (I’ve written about coaching as a great vehicle to apply the findings of positive psychology in Are You Positive?).  Jer recently posted an easy-to-read synopsis of his thesis which is about Universal Assessments. UAs are a bit broader than UABs. He defines them as “judgments about the universe as a whole…[that] express themselves through words and behaviors.” They help us make sense of the world and “generate expectancy,” in other words they affect how we learn new things and how we remember the past.

Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe. — Albert Einstein

Jer’s thesis was all about “hypothesis generation” where he examined many UAs, narrowing them down to 13 major ones that “may help humans live particularly happy and fulfilled lives.” The next step will be to collect a “vast real world UA-bank” to kick-start future research on the role they play in our lives. Isn’t that cool?!

I’m posting the 13 UAs here and hope that you’ll be on the lookout for some real-world examples. If you find some, please leave them in the comment section, and I’ll pass them on to Jer.

    1. Is the world good or bad?  Thinking that the world is good and having a gut-level positive response was the single most relevant UA I identified.  It pays to have a little crush on existence.
    2. Is the universe interesting or boring?  It’s hard to imagine developing strengths like “love of learning” and “curiosity” without a strong belief in universal interestingness.
    3. Is the universe beautiful or ugly?  My wife’s top strength is “appreciation of beauty and excellence.”  Why would she or anyone stop to savor (which research says is good for you) the roses if one does not expect roses, or much else, to be worth savoring?
    4. Can the universe change or can’t it?  My good friend Eric is remarkably politically informed AND remarkably politically apathetic.  I think he imbibes the notion that nothing really changes in this world.   This UA may separate “believers” and those who are at their heart grumpy old men.
    5. Is the universe getting better or getting worse?  We know stories matter.  What is the story you tell over the universe?  Where are we going?  How will this all end?  I think religion can play a big role in all of these, but especially this one.
    6. Is the world safe or dangerous?  A sense of danger causes you to scan the horizon for threats while a sense of safety is a prerequisite to feeling good and being open to new things and new ways of thinking.
    7. Is the universe to be explored or avoided?  Of course, we cannot avoid the world completely, but we can try to stay away from it as much as we can.  Alternatively, we could pursue immersion, novelty, and new experiences.
    8. Is the universe comprehensible or incomprehensible?  Why should I try to understand the world if I have no chance of doing so?
    9. Am I at the center of the universe or not?  If I do not get a job I apply for, does that mean that there is something wrong with me?  Maybe, but someone who thinks that they are the center of the universe will tend to think it is definitely their fault somehow.  Being at the center of the universe means that you are always in the right place at the right time for credit and blame.
    10. Is the universe intentional or mindless?  Is there a mind behind the scenes orchestrating events, or is it random?  This mind might be Jesus, superstition, fate, Karma, etc.  An example of this UA might be, “the world is out to get me.
    11. Is the universe best experienced alone or with others? If the world is a war zone, we need buddies in our bunker.  If the world is a paradise, we need playmates.

    12. Is the universe as it should be, or should it change?  When we approach something new, do we assume that there is a reason for it being the way it is and it likely needs to be accepted, or is there little reason for it being the way it is and should we prepare ourselves to change it?  This might be at the core of conservative and liberal tendencies.  This is the only UA continuum that did not have an obviously “better” choice.
    13. Is the universe just or unjust?  Strengths like prudence and self-regulation would be difficult to come by if one did not believe that his or her actions affected outcomes.

Here is my contribution:  “The world is your oyster.”  – This one relates to UA #7 – Is the universe to be explored or avoided? Apparently Shakespeare’s character, Pistol, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, thought it was ours to explore.


Power of the Group – Exercise Together

SAMSUNGFor about six years now, I’ve been lucky to be part of a small group of women who regularly hike together (along with some yoga, cycling, etc.) We call ourselves OEBs, short for Obsessive Exercise Buddies. Okay, maybe “committed” would be a better word choice than “obsessive”…but the benefits are huge!

There are four of us, so even if two can’t make it, I still have a workout buddy. Together we try new things. None of us had cycled on anything but a cruiser a few years ago. Yoga was a bit of a stretch for one of us (pun intended). We’ve been there for each other, talking through problems up and down mountains, and we’ve had some doozies, from death of a spouse to breast cancer.

For anyone wanting to create a consistent and enjoyable exercise routine, joining a group or finding a workout partner with a similar fitness level and goals is going to practically ensure your success. I urge my coaching clients to find this type of support, but it’s not always easy, so here are some tips:

1) There are countless numbers of exercise groups out there that offer not only fitness but also a great social component. For hiking, check out local groups online. Mayo Clinic offers advice on How to Start a Walking Group. If you’re into cycling, almost any bike shop organizes regular group rides.

2) Classes are a great way to stay motivated. You meet new people, time flies by, you’re challenged well beyond your regular 30 minutes on the elliptical machine, and most gym offer a variety of cool classes.

3) Chances are you and your spouse or partner share some similar interests. Capitalize on those by gardening, biking, or taking early morning walks together. Even just sharing what kind of exercise you did that day is a positive way to give and receive support.

Fergus Closeup4) Dogs are the BEST accountability partners. Who can deny that face when he wants to go for his regular walk? Establish a pattern, and you can be sure that he’ll remind you when it’s time to go.

5) A friend in another city or country can also be your buddy. I know of a man who trades texts with his brother each day about their workouts. It’s not a contest (at least he says it’s not) but it’s a motivator as well as a nice way to connect.

6) Signing up for a 5K, participating in a bike race, or a charitable walk puts you in touch with others who have a common goal. Sign up with a friend and train together. A few months of that may make the difference in creating a positive habit of regular exercise.

It’s hard to overemphasize how enriching and helpful sharing your exercise routine can be. The physical benefits of exercise are well known, but adding a social component takes it up a notch. The PERMA theory of Well-Being created by Positive Psychologist Martin Seligman shows us how. Exercising with a buddy or a group touches each of the five elements proven to increase flourishing or happiness.

P – Positive emotion — the endorphin rush, and the satisfaction you feel when you’ve completed your workout along side your friend, or the feedback you get when you report your activity to your partner,

E – Engagement — being committed to and invested in regular exercise with others,

R – Relationships — meeting new people, deepening existing relationships, and growing together,

M – Meaning and Purpose — sharing goals and reaching them together,

A – Accomplishment – following through on your workout plans, making it happen, and getting it done.

P.S.  I had some interesting feedback on this post. One client said her exercise time is sort of sacred–a time to be alone with her thoughts. Another said it was just too hard to coordinate schedules, accommodate another person’s pace, and to be at the whim of someone else canceling at the last minute. She prefers to get it done alone. I want to acknowledge that side of the coin, and reiterate that you have to DO WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU! For more on that, you might enjoy a great post by one of my favorite bloggers at Move, Eat, Create – Why the Workout ‘Buddy System’ Isn’t For Everyone (And That’s Ok!)



Seligman, M. E. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.


Water – Drink Up!

This summer I’m all about drinking more water. It has been my New Year’s resolution for approximately the past five years, but it never stuck. Since the thermometer reads well over 100 degrees most of the summer here in Phoenix, it made perfect sense to try again now.


My personal trick is a big, heavy-duty plastic cup with a built-in straw. I rarely leave the house without it loaded up with ice-cold water. I also manage to drink significantly more through a straw. I haven’t found any science to back that up, but it works for me. (nb: not a good idea when drinking frozen margaritas) When temperatures cool down, I hope to have a good water drinking habit in place – though I may find myself substituting some hot tea to start my day.

How much?
The adage “drink 8 cups a day” has gone by the wayside. The Institute of Medicine recommends men drink 13 cups per day and women 9 cups. These numbers are based on the formula: consume the number of ounces of water each day equal to half of your body weight. However, these ounces are not only made up of drinking water, but take into account all beverages as well as foods (usually about 20% of our intake).

What will that water do for you?
One of the easiest, cheapest and most effective ways to improve your health and well-being is to drink lots of water.

keep-calm-and-drink-more-water-510x594Weight Loss? – There don’t seem to be any reliable studies showing increased water intake will cause you to lose weight. However, researchers have found that eating foods with a high-volume of water (fruits, vegetables, broth-based soups, oatmeal) can help with weight loss because they boost your feeling of satiety. Perhaps even more effective is swapping out high calorie beverages (orange juice, sweetened tea, soft drinks (diet and regular), sugary coffees) for water.

Improved Kidney Function – Water is key to flushing water-soluble waste out through your urine. If you urine is any darker than pale yellow, drink more!

Maintain Normal Bowel Function – Along with adequate fiber, water will help things keep flowing through your GI tract. No better way to start your day, eh?

Boosts Immunity – Adequate water helps keep all your bodily systems at peak performance. It’s my first line of defense when I feel a cold coming on.

Headache Remedy and Prevention – Dehydration (along with tension, eye strain, low blood sugar) is among the top causes of headaches. It’s an easy fix.

Benefits of Drinking Water

Simply the Best Granola

Simply the Best Granola

This is a standby at our house. We even take some with us when we travel for a snack in the car or an easy breakfast in hotel. You probably have most of the ingredients already in your kitchen. It definitely beats the ones you’ll find in the cereal aisle.


granola bowl

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup chopped walnuts
¾ cup unsweetened shredded coconut (look for Red Mill)
¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup vegetable oil (canola or coconut oil works well)
½ tsp. salt

2 cups diced dried fruit (apricots, dried cherries, raisins)


– Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

– In a large bowl, combine oats, nuts, coconut, and brown sugar. In a separate bowl combine maple syrup, oil and salt. Combine the two mixtures well. Spread the granola onto a rimmed baking sheet. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour stirring every fifteen minutes. The low heat allows for a nice, lightly toasted flavor.

– Allow the granola to cool, and add chopped fruit and mix well. Store in an airtight container.

Download a PDF of this recipe.

This is a modified version of Alton Brown’s recipe.