Thursday, January 31, 2019

How to Use the Tetris Effect to Invite Positivity Back into Your Life (Despite Living With a Chronic Illness)


Hi All,

I’m excited to announce that due to the success of this blog that I have now transitioned over to a new blogging platform that I think you will really enjoy!  You will find your favorite articles there and many more recent ones!

Please join me at – I can’t wait to see you there!

From me to you,


What Does the Tetris Effect Have to do with Chronic Illness?

Wait! Don’t stop reading – I’m definitely not about to start talk about gaming! While the Tetris effect may have started out with a phenomenon identified from heavy video game use, the Tetris effect is now used to describe instances when people devote so much time and attention to something that it begins to dominate and alter their thoughts, perceptions and dreams.

Okay, so we’ve got that down but how does that relate to life with a chronic illness? Well, as anyone with a chronic illness reading this knows, life with a chronic illness can do just that – dominate our life and if we let it, dominate our thinking. The good news is though that it doesn’t have to!

Here’s how it all began for me. When I first became sick with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), it was all about the pain, exhaustion and the losses. It seemed that not a moment went by that something did not happen that didn’t remind me of my limitations, losses or pain. As time has gone by, this is all still there and more. Deep layers of unending exhaustion, memory loss, rotating areas of pain, and a few things I’m a bit too embarrassed to share.

Soon though, this life became my new norm. That is not to say any of it went away, believe me, it’s right there, every moment, but I’ve accepted that this is my life now, just as I’ve accepted brushing my teeth a few times a day is a must. It just is. For now.

Finding the Positives Within My New Normal

So, I’m living here in my new norm, but as someone that has always been an optimistic, positive person, I have decided I am not ready to give that up to ME. ME has taken enough pieces of my old life; this was one piece I refused to give up. In fact, I think that I needed to continue to be that person now more than ever. Not only for myself, but knowing how contagious happiness can be, I realized I can still contribute to the world around me by showing what is all still possible despite living a life with extra challenges.

This motivated me to figure out how to do it. However, what once came innately to me was now going to take a bit of practice. But I was convinced I could get back to that happy place, and eventually it would be a seamless process (and it is!).

This again, is where the book “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of PositivePsychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work1 came into play for me. Once again, I’m going to ask you to hang in here with me because you may be wondering why a career-focused book is relevant when keeping your eyes open is a task at times. That’s the beauty of the book – while its title is focused on increasing success and performance at work, there’s not a single principle in it that cannot be applied to life with a chronic illness.

To highlight this, I’m going to share with you the Tetris effect strategy that I learned from this book. Big picture speaking, through integrating the Tetris effect into your life, you can retrain your brain simply by surrounding yourself with positivity. Bonus: Positivity is contagious! All of us have “caught” something: let’s catch positivity! And…let’s not just catch it for ourselves but let’s spread it to our caregivers and loved ones.

Seek Out Opportunities for Positivity and Watch it Spread

So, how do we start? First, you need to increase the number of positive opportunities, experiences, and thoughts in your life. To do so, you must repeatedly expose yourself to positive things. The great news is, once you start seeking them out, these positive experiences will naturally just start spilling themselves into your daily life.

Now, you may be thinking how can all this ‘spilling’ happen from my couch or bed? It can! We have the opportunity daily to activate the Tetris effect. This is where your choice comes in though. And why it’s so important to choose happiness for yourself – and watch success follow right behind – because you deserve it.

Know Where and Where Not to Look for Support

To help you do this, focus on constantly surrounding yourself with stories of perseverance and success. What does that mean for us? It can mean going or calling into a support group, chatting with friends that understand your condition and support you, watching a feel-good movie, reading a romance novel, reviewing your gratitude journal…So many possibilities! Trust me, they are there if you seek them out, even from your couch!

I should stop for a moment here and talk about what it doesn’t mean, because that can be just as important and ruin any chance for success with this. One example is Facebook. Facebook can be a great source of information and also support, but I also know there are many groups that have a very negative spin to them or their topics of discussion are centered around the group members’ pain. While we all need to vent from time to time, making this your world, or even giving it too much time in your life, can do you harm. Limit or eliminate these experiences from your life as much as you can. It will serve you well.

Neuroplasticity and its Connection to Pain

Also, I should briefly mention neuroplasticity, because that comes into play here too. Bear with me though because I’m not too sciency. Essentially the brain has the ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury or disease and to adjust their activities in response.

So that’s a bunch of science but what does it really mean? It means I can focus on how exhausted beyond exhaustion I am for the next hour, but by doing so I am strengthening those pain neuropathways. Think of it as twine that turns to string that turns to rope. That is what my focus on that pain is doing. I am making it easier for myself to feel that pain. In those moments, my thoughts are working against me.

Or, I can distract myself. I can do a puzzle, take a nap, read a book. I can think about something that makes me laugh. Anything but that pain. When I do that, yes, that pain is still there, but I am not strengthening the pain sensors in my body. I am weakening them AND I am creating and/or strengthening the positive neuropathways in my body at the same time.

Use the Tetris Effect to Create a Better Way of Life

Okay, back to the Tetris effect! As I mentioned, the more you focus on creating the Tetris effect within yourself, you will soon find yourself drawn to things that make you happy. You will even start to subconsciously seek these moments out. Once you get to this point, it starts to become a way of life. You’ve done it! This newfound perspective will just naturally take over your thinking.

And this is where we come full circle to our earlier discussion on neuroplasticity. You have started to make your body work for you as well as your mind. Your mind and body are now working together as one toward a common goal. You!

A Simple Challenge: 

What may have started out as a simple video game has extended into a principle that we can choose to integrate into our lives. It most definitely is a choice though and one that you must proactively choose. I know I may still have some doubters at this point, but I ask that you give this strategy a solid chance for a few weeks so you can watch it work its magic. I bet you will be surprised at its effectiveness. And…you have nothing to lose by seeking out positive experiences.

So I challenge you to choose happiness, to choose you! Life has given you a challenge; show life it won’t shake your spirit!

1.Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Broadway Books

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Meditation #Fail #Fail #Success!


Hi All,

I’m excited to announce that due to the success of this blog that I have now transitioned over to a new blogging platform that I think you will really enjoy!  You will find your favorite articles there and many more recent ones!

Please join me at – I can’t wait to see you there!

From me to you,



A practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness,
and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state.[1]

Before I got sick, I had no real concept of what mediation was all about.  And to be honest, I had no intention of learning more.  I was all about daily sweaty workouts and very physical outdoor adventures.  Slowing down, mindfulness, breathing exercises... all of this was foreign to me.  And... I really didn’t have an interest or feel a need to learn more.  

Then I got sick and I found myself with a big empty whole in each day - my workout time.  This gap haunted me daily.   I finally decided I had to fill the hole or this loss would be in my face day after day and remind me of my workout loss.  So, I chose to explore meditation because it fit all the criteria I was suppose to be doing - pacing, becoming more stress-free, moderating my rapidly fluctuating heart rate... 

So, I tried listening to a meditation DVD.  During the sessions though, I found myself thinking of anything and everything but....  I completely failed to focus on meditating.  This went on day after day - my mind going a million places except for how I was being guided through the meditation session.   I felt like I was failing with no chance of success in sight.

Then, things changed a bit.  Soon I found I was simply falling asleep in the middle of meditation. Apparently, I went from a brain on high speed during these sessions to one that was out cold during them.  I wasn’t sure if this meant I was a meditation rock star or that I was just failing in a new way.  

Eventually I hit what I call phase three.   I not only learned to meditate but I could do it without any guidance.  Besides using it in life in general, I quickly found it to be a huge help in easing my anxiety during medical procedures.  By focusing on my breathing, my body relaxed making the procedure physically go better and mentally it also went smoother and was less stress-free for me.   Success!   

Admittedly I don’t make as much time for it as I should.  And I know personally I would be so much better off if I did.  Perhaps I would even sleep a bit better.  Knowing I have this gem in my back pocket though for when I really need it has been a gift and a relief.  

So that’s my meditation story.... I went in completely blind and I ended up finding some great success with it! 

I would love to hear how others first journeyed into it and how they use it.   I know I definitely could expand my use of it and reap more benefits from it.    Baby steps for now, bigger steps on the way.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Defeats, Losses, and Limitations & Most Importantly the New Discoveries, Opportunities, and Wins


Hi All,

I’m excited to announce that due to the success of this blog that I have now transitioned over to a new blogging platform that I think you will really enjoy!  You will find your favorite articles there and many more recent ones!

Please join me at – I can’t wait to see you there!

From me to you,


The Defeats, Losses, and Limitations 


Most Importantly the New Discoveries, Opportunities, and Wins

It would be sheer denial to say that living with a chronic illness doesn’t come with its own moments of defeat, losses, and limitations.  I think we all have our “big hitters” and even our “small hitters” when it comes to our illness.

A tough defeat for me was no longer being able to do my best at tasks.  I found myself struggling to perform at my prior level and deeply disappointed when it just didn’t happen.  I have always prided myself on my independence and ability to handle anything that came my way.  Now I was becoming more dependent on others and things I could seamlessly do before I could no longer do as well.  In time, though, I have learned to accept my new “norm” and realize it’s not a defeat, it’s a change.  I may have lost some abilities, but I have gained in other areas.  More to come on that!

For me, one of the first big hits (don’t laugh!) was the loss in the ability to continue my hard-core workouts.  I know many would find that to be a win.   To me, working out was as much part of my day as brushing my teeth.  And if I didn’t do it for a few days, I felt sick.  Working out was my stress reliever, my confidence builder, and I loved the “high” I got from completing an intense Insanity or T25 workout (one of the most strenuous programs out there).  Now, working out has become my enemy, so to speak.  If I were to work out now, I would be harming myself on a short-term and long-term basis.

When it comes to my limitations, they have come in a variety of ways.  I accomplish less in a day, I often need to ask for help (this one was very hard for me to accept because I was used to be the helper, not the “helpee”). and I’ve lost the ability to participate in certain activities.  When someone invites me to go with them to an event, I have to put it through a multi-layered clearinghouse before I can accept it.

So yes, defeats, losses and limitations have entered my life.  But let’s be real before we dwell on this too much, because the reality is that everyone, absolutely everyone, has some form of these three in their lives.  Maybe not to the degree that we do (though some do), but no one lives a life of all wins, gains, and in excess of opportunities.   

With each defeat, loss or limitation though I can just as easily highlight new discoveries, triumphs, and wins.  I know at times, especially in our most challenging moments that it seems like it’s impossible to think that such things are possible, but I’m here to tell you they are.  I’m living them and loving them!  We all have them; it may take some time to discover them, as it did for me, but they are there in a unique way for all of us.

So, as far as one of my new discoveries, well, it actually turned out to be a great replacement for my loss.  I swapped out working out for gentle yogatai chi and meditation.  There’s no getting around it, it’s not the same.  However, in some ways it’s better.  I may have lost my toned arms, back and legs, but I gained the ability to slow down my mind, live in the moment, and also still feel somewhat fit through yoga.   While I still sometimes yearn for my hard-core workouts, I really appreciate these new opportunities.  Opportunities the hard-core, mountain-climbing person I was would have scoffed at but opportunities that enlightened me thoroughly embraces.

When it comes to new opportunities, this one I only thought to explore because I was sick.  And that is writing.  At first it was simply a therapeutic process for me.  A way for me to organize and accept what was all happening to me.  Then I explored publishing options and got published and republished.   It was all so exciting and new – and I needed some real excitement at this point.  As I continued to write, and positive comments came pouring in, I learned that my writing was helping others.  It was raising public  awareness of myalgic encephalomyelitis and life with a chronic illness, helping people feel less isolated and alone with their illness and providing them with strategies for overcoming challenges.  And that, to me, quickly became my primary source of motivation.  An opportunity and win!

I would have to say that there have been many, many additional wins as well.  Too many to name them all, in fact.  But another important one is that I have become more me.  When I first got diagnosed, I thought I was losing piece after piece of me.  As time progressed though I realized I quickly was becoming more of the best of me.  I was even more compassionate, more loving, more forgiving, and more supportive.  I’ve always been on the “giver” side of relationships, but now those sides of me are enhanced, experienced, and more supportive.   I have also had to learn to be a “taker” though, which you “givers” know how hard that can be, but I think that’s also a good thing.  It’s brought a better balance to my relationships. 

My second big win is you all.   I’ve met so many of you, both in person and virtually.   This community is amazingly supportive and always, always there when you need them.   We know what each other is going through and how best to help.  So, the fact that my writing has been helpful to many in this same group makes me happy that I can give back to such incredible individuals that have given me so much love and support.  

So yes, there have been defeats, losses, and limitations but who hasn’t had this in their life at every stage.    Most importantly is a focus on the new discoveries, opportunities, and wins.  I’m excited to see what’s next!   I hope you are too!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

I Relapsed in my Life, Not my Chronic Illness


Hi All,

I’m excited to announce that due to the success of this blog that I have now transitioned over to a new blogging platform that I think you will really enjoy!  You will find your favorite articles there and many more recent ones!

Please join me at – I can’t wait to see you there!

From me to you,


My Comeback!

About 10 years ago I had quite a big revelation.  I had a pretty good life – good job, great friends and family, and essentially no complaints or problem areas.  Sounds great, right?  I also realized though that my life was just being lived, I wasn’t an active participant in it.  I wasn’t truly living. 

After much contemplation, I realized that part of the problem was that my life was being dictated by my fears.  In addition, I wasn’t really actively pursuing my dreams.  If they happened, great, but in reality they likely were not ever going to happen because I wasn’t doing anything to make them happen.   So, I set some goals.  Real, hard goals.

I decided my part-time job stocking liquor store shelves really wasn’t “working out.”  (Who was I fooling?)  So instead, I went out and bought a pair of great workout shoes, fun workout clothes, and I joined a gym.  When the gym got old, I pursued more hardcore workouts from home, like the Beachbody Insanity and T25 workouts.   Result:  I felt great!  I was physically in the best shape of my life and I loved how toned and muscular little me was!

So, I decided to take it one step further.  Remember, the dream part?  Well here’s where that comes in. I wanted to accomplish something big so that when I had a challenge later in life (little did I know there would be so many!) that I would have something to fall back on (“if I can do that, I can handle this!’).  So, I spent six months boosting up my workouts in preparation to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.   It’s the highest free-standing mountain in the world and was my first mountain.   Once again, I bought the gear – the best hiking bootspoleswinter camping equipment, etc.  I was determined that I wasn’t going to let something little like the wrong gear become a challenge.   And I did it!  I summited Mount Kilimanjaro in 2008.   By far the most mental and physical challenge of my life.  As I had promised myself, I gave it all the demons that had been haunting me all my life to that mountain and I came out of the clouds (literally) lighter and with a clean slate.  Ready to achieve more dreams.

Next leap of faith:  I LOVED the coaching I was doing at work.  But I wanted more.  I wanted to see if my coaching skills as an attorney and manager of a legal team would translate outside my direct reports.   Opening a business, designing a logo, buying business cards, marketing it…  Well, it all seemed overwhelming.  However, little by little, I achieved each step.  Eventually I had a wide variety of clients coming to me from a variety of marketing initiatives I had designed. 
Right around this time though, things started sliding for me physically.  First, I was finding my quality of sleep was drastically declining to the point it was affecting my motivation and energy levels during the day.  And then more symptoms came.  After a year of trials and many errors by my physicians, I was eventually diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).  And then more medical issues arose.

And that’s when I relapsed in my life.   I started letting my life simply be lived again; I was once again just going through the paces of each day, again and again.   I was afraid to do anything in fear it might cause a relapse in my condition, or worse, what I call a “blackout” - where I get so exhausted that I simply lose consciousness for hours on end, waking up feeling like a truck had hit me.   Let me tell you, once you feel that, it’s ingrained in your mind. And you start to want to avoid doing anything to prevent that feeling from arising. 

So, I stopped living.  In part, it was easy because so may friends left once I got diagnosed (at the time, it was a real hit; now I see it as a win.  I know who my real friends are now; they are the ones that stayed).   Even so, I wasn’t going out much anymore. I craved my couch at all times and I shied away from all invites out of fear that I wouldn’t be up for it that day.  In short, I let my chronic illness cause a relapse in my life.

At some point, whether from boredom, encouragement from friends, or both, I decided my illness was not my whole life and I wasn’t going to let it control my life.  Yes, I was still going to proceed with calculated caution to avoid a relapse in my condition, but I was not going to put my life on an indefinite hold.

So, I started living again!  While I can’t work out because of my condition, I found meditation and yoga to be incredible new sources of relaxation.  I started learning Tai Chai.  I also threw myself back into my coaching, resulting in achieving a full client base built from returning clients and referrals.  I also began writing and seeking out publishers for my articles.  Quickly, I became a globally published author – how exciting!  Most recently, I’ve even started my own blog.  I’ve also co-founded the Minnesota ME/CFS Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Minnesotans with ME/CFS.

Moral of the story:  Sick or not, truly living your life, being an active participant in it, and driving your successes is so much more rewarding than anything that will just come to you by happenstance.  Also, letting your fears dictate your life is very self-limiting.  Being appropriately cautious and knowing your medically-related limitations is one thing, but letting them hold you back from everything is another.  There is still so, so much we can do.  

Dare I say, my chronic illness has actually brought more fulfillment to my life, including focusing my success on helping others rather than just solely creating personal successes.   To be honest, while the pain is real and in my face daily, I think ME has made me a better person on the inside.   I’m still me, but I’m more me.  I give more, I love more, I appreciate more, I am more. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Value in Seeking Out Moments of Gratitude


Hi All,

I’m excited to announce that due to the success of this blog that I have now transitioned over to a new blogging platform that I think you will really enjoy!  You will find your favorite articles there and many more recent ones!

Please join me at – I can’t wait to see you there!

From me to you,


Becoming sick with a chronic illness changes your life in just about every way – your relationships, your job, your day-to-day choices, etc.  At times it can be hard not to let that dominate your thinking.   I’ve got great news for you on this front though – it’s actually totally up to you whether or not you will let it do so. 

As someone that has always been an optimistic, positive person, I found that when I became sick all of these negative, draining thoughts were distracting me from the opportunities of joy, gratitude and happiness I still very much so had in my life.  So, I decided I must find some new strategies that would help me redirect my focus, knowing what once came innately to me was now going to take a bit of practice.

This again, is where the book "The Happiness Advantage:  The Seven Principles ofPositive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work"[1] came into play for me.  I know what you are thinking – why would I read a career-focused book when I am struggling to get out of bed or off the couch to simply sort through the mail, throw a load of laundry in, or let the dog out??  That’s the beauty of the book – while its title is focused on increasing success and performance at work, there’s not a single principle in it that cannot be applied to life with a chronic illness. 

To highlight this, I’m going to share with you the first strategy that helped me refocus my mind away from all the thoughts swirling around in it related to my illness.  I will admit that at first this strategy sounded a little cliché or “flavor of the month” to me, but I soon found I was chiding myself for my initial thoughts.  This idea really works!!

How to start though….   First, I needed a little convincing so I started with the science.  Generally, it’s been proven that we need three positive experiences to address a negative one.  And on particularly hard days, we need to double-up and go for six.  To do this, you need to train your brain to seek out the positive, because let’s face it, on a hard day, it’s not all roses.  It takes sorting through a whole lot of weeds to find the blooming flowers, the lights of opportunity, and the path to happier thoughts. 
I’m just going to say it – Gratitude Journal!  I will admit when I read that in the book I thought I am too tired to journal and how is that really going to help me in any way (Ikes – so much negative thinking and I haven’t even gotten started yet!).

Here’s the reality though.  It only takes about 5 minutes to do. If even!  So those of you with busy lives, low attention spans, or are just plain exhausted (I know that feeling well!), this is still doable.  And when I say journal, I don’t mean essays!  It can be as simple as:

·         Sorted through my laundry.

·         Father brought me my groceries for the week!

·         Enjoyed a short call with a friend.

·         Relaxed through a session of gentle yoga

To make this work, there’s a few critical keys to success.  First, before you start this process, commit to doing it for 21 days.  Where do I get 21 days?  That’s what studies have shown it takes to form a new habit (or break a bad one!).  So, make a strong, firm commitment to yourself, for yourself, to do this for 21 days.  Second, put the journal in a highly visible, easily accessible place.  Don’t put it away from your main circle of reach.  The further away or more out-of-sight it is, the less likely you will be to do it. 

Also, know out of the gate that on a tough day, finding six things to be grateful for may be a bit tough.  This is the time to get creative.  Don’t ponder or feel like you need a big accomplishment; simply list what pops into your mind.  Remember – it all counts.  Big or small.  Finishing your laundry is a huge accomplishment but it simply may not be doable on a given day.  Break it down – today, sort your laundry.  Tomorrow wash and dry a load.   Each of these can count as an entry – and most importantly a success story for the day.   

Lastly, pick a prime time of day for this task.  Do you want to start your day jotting down yesterday’s successes to give you a boost heading into the new day?  Or, do you want to end your day on a positive note, reliving what you achieved for the day?  

So, you may be thinking at this point, I’ve heard of gratitude journal before, yes, I can write these things down, but what really is the goal here?  Why am I asking you to do this?

It all sounds simple and elementary.  But by doing this you are literally training your brain to seek out the positive aspects of your life.  And on your hard days, instead of focusing on your pain, in your mind you will be focused on the fact that you have firmly committed to finding six positive things that you are grateful for that day.  This will start causing you to look, stretch your mind some days, for what it is you are grateful for that day.  And guess what – the more you look, the more you will see.  It’s just that cool!  And soon, this whole practice becomes easier and your day-to-day thoughts start to transform naturally.  Your paper journal may soon even become a mental journal or even simply how your brain has now learned to naturally think.  

Again, I will admit that a gratitude journal sounded a little “much” to me in the beginning, but it really does work.  I’ve also found it quite helpful, especially on the hard days, to use it as a bit of a success story of myself, flipping through the pages of the past month.  I always, always find that I have accomplished much more than I thought I had.  For whatever reason, it can be quite easy to forget our successes, while our downfalls stay quite memorable.  The gratitude journal, both as a daily tool and “view in the life” tool, can turn that around for you!

This, my friends, is an easy way to train your brain to work for you, not against you.  As I mentioned earlier, the more you do it, the more you will naturally start seeking out and creating such moments, knowing you will be documenting your day at some point.  And with that… you have begun the process of retraining your brain to focus on gratitude and the successes you have brought to your own day and even the days of others!

Try it – I think you will be surprised at the results!

[1] Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Broadway Books.


Hi All, I’m excited to announce that due to the success of this blog that I have now transitioned over to a new blogging platform that I t...