ChatGPT, powered by artificial intelligence (AI) is suddenly everywhere. Students write papers with it and teachers use it to grade those papers; in the workplace, some rely on it for research and to generate professional documents; most recently, I heard about it being used to write dating app profiles. ChatGPT supports incredible progress, but its pervasive use definitely has me thinking about the impact that this is having on our brains and emotions.
If we rely more and more on ChatGPT to do the cognitive ‘heavy lifting’, it won’t be without consequence. Using one’s brain less and less to think creatively, solve problems and communicate successfully, will result in that brain not being as good at doing these things. For younger brains, a reliance on ChatGPT could mean missing out on developing these skills all together.
I’ve also noticed that frequent ChatGPT users sometimes start to doubt their ability to be successful without relying on AI. This can negatively impact self-confidence and also interfere with a willingness to take even small cognitive risks (for e.g. writing an email or answering a question without being 100% sure of the answer). Success achieved as a result of using ChatGPT can trigger an internal struggle of having ‘got away with it’, which causes guilt or feeling like a fake.
So…what can we do to enjoy the benefits of ChatGPT while minimizing the potential negatives:
  • Limit the use of ChatGPT to fun/unimportant purposes, resist the urge to use it for meaningful school assignments or work products.
  • Parents—monitor a child/teen’s schoolwork to ensure they are not relying on it to produce homework/essays/reports.
  • Before jumping to ChatGPT, make a commitment to yourself to ‘try without AI’ support—attempt everything yourself first. Then, even if you turn to AI for some support, you have stretched your brain and reminded yourself that you are capable.
P.S. This newsletter was written without ChatGPT!
Happy New Year!
I have been contemplating what is most important as we enter this new year, and I believe that above all else, it is healthy relationships that matter most.
Many people think that the best relationships should happen naturally. In reality, healthy relationships don’t just happen, they require consistent, meaningful work in three specific categories. This is true for all relationships—partnerships, friendships, parents, children, and all others that matter to you.
The first of the relationship cornerstones is communication. This is probably the most obvious, but still remains elusive in so many relationships. We may be afraid to share true feelings because of worry it will hurt or anger the other, or risk making oneself vulnerable. However, poor communication—even with the intention of avoiding pain, erodes a relationship and drives distance between people.
What to do: Commit to overcoming the communication gap. If it is too difficult to begin by speaking directly, start with an email, text or even a written letter. If you’re not sure what to say, begin by speaking with love and compassion (not anger) and visualize the conversation as a bridge between you and the other person.
The next cornerstone is compromise–difficult for almost everyone because it is always much easier to see one’s own perspective as correct and the other person’s as wrong. Yet, without leaving space for the other person’s point of view to be valid, it is close to impossible for a relationship to thrive.
What to do: Practice saying the words ‘maybe you’re right’, ‘you have a good point’, ‘I’ll think about that’ and ‘tell me more’. Remember that in almost all cases, there are at least two very legitimate perspectives on every problem or fight, and both can be correct. When you are able to have the generosity to see the perspective that is not your own, the relationship will immediately grow stronger and healthier.
The final cornerstone to strong relationships is forgiveness. Human beings are imperfect, and as such, prone to making mistakes. Some errors in a relationship can’t and shouldn’t be forgiven, but in most cases, forgiveness is a necessary part of every healthy relationship.
What to do: Ask yourself whether you would hope and expect to be forgiven for the thing that you’re struggling to forgive—if the answer is yes, perhaps you should find it in you to offer forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t have to happen all at once. If the relationship is worth it, you can work towards it, allowing yourself to forgive a little more each day.
I wish you strong, healthy relationships in this new year and the resilience it takes to nurture them!
October has been a difficult month for many people. The crisis in the Middle East has caused and revealed emotional and political divisiveness, both in real life and across social media platforms.
In my practice, over the last couple of weeks, a great many people of all ages have been expressing sadness, and also an increase in anxieties, fears, and feelings of vulnerability. These feelings are further amplified because people have still not recovered from the deep-seated emotional response to having lived through the pandemic. People have been sharing with me a general sense of emotional unrest—probably best described as an existential dread—linked to these and other psychosocial and political struggles in our world.
Every generation has had its big challenges, but the pervasive onslaught of news and of social media makes it even more difficult than in the past to manage our emotional response to all that is going on in our world. Of course, our access also makes us more knowledgeable and educated—so it is a complex dynamic that can be confusing to emotionally regulate.
Let’s talk about some ways to cope even as we continue to stay engaged and passionate about the challenges and causes we face in our lifetime.
  • Limit how much media you consume on a daily basis. It can feel compelling to watch news media/social media as much as possible because it gives us a perceived sense of control. In reality, it is better to limit exposure to no more than a cumulative two hours a day. This includes scrolling through social media and news media that is playing ‘in the background’. A continued exposure to negative news is likely to increase anxiety and depression, especially in those who are predisposed to these. Parents need to be engaged in what news their child/teen is absorbing, especially through social media.
  • Do something that gives you real control. Pick a cause that you believe will make the world better. Get involved as a volunteer or fund raiser. Doing something to effect change will help inoculate you against existential fears and anxieties and help you feel that you are doing more than just watching.
  • When posting on social media, think about the impact your communication may have on members of your community/your child’s community. If each person took personal responsibility for not posting or reposting sweeping negative/hostile views on social media, it would significantly reduce the amount of rage and divisiveness on the internet and in real life.
  • Practice self-nurturing. In the place of consuming too much news media, use some of your time to actively focus on self-care: exercise, getting enough sleep, hobbies, spending time with friends, and consuming non-news media.
While we all hope for so many things to change, we can each do our best to improve our tiny corner of the world.
I recently had three separate conversations, that got me thinking about the meaning of independence. In the first, a young adult spoke about her strong desire to be completely independent of her parents. In the second, an older woman shared her fears of losing her independence as she ages, and in the third, a divorced man proclaimed the importance of being so fully independent of others that there is no risk to him of being hurt again.
In these, as in many conversations I have on this topic, people conceptualize independence as ‘all’ or ‘none’—either you are independent, which is a ‘good’ thing or you are dependent, which is ‘bad’. In reality, fostering relationships on which you can depend is not the same as dependence.
Vulnerability is difficult and can be risky but allowing oneself to depend on at least one or two people allows us a safety net to explore deep emotions and feel nurtured. Depending on others doesn’t replace independence, in fact, it enhances it because it is easier to take risks when someone has your back.
We see this in adolescents—when a teen feels secure in their relationship with a parent, they are better able to become independent because they feel emotionally safe. This need for a secure relationship continues, helping us to grow throughout our lifetime.
Are you secure in your independence while still healthily depending on others? If you’re not sure, then here are a few ways to ensure that you are:
  • Be a dependable person for someone else. You will soon find that this person reciprocates.
  • Take small emotional risks. By sharing selectively, you will learn who might become a person you can rely on—then take slightly bigger risks.
  • Try to quiet your inner self-critic. It is difficult to imagine someone else being dependable when you don’t feel that you’re worth it. If this seems too difficult, it might be worth seeking professional help.
  • Don’t confuse dependability with dependence. It is important to feel that you cultivate at least one or two dependable relationships; it is not okay to feel that you can’t function without this person’s input in your life.
  • Independent thoughts and emotions are a critical part of being a high functioning person. However, they don’t replace the need for dependable relationships as you move through life. In fact, the two must co-exist side by side.
Things I heard last week…
Person #1: “I’m dreadin the end of summer…not looking forward to the ramped up craziness of fall.”
Person #2: “I can’t wait for the summer to be over, I love the cooler weather, sweaters, the holidays.”
Person #3: “End of summer means my kids are going back to college and school–the house will be too empty.”
Person #4: “I can’t wait for my kids to go back to college and school, I’ll get my time back!”
Person #5: “I’m dreading school–so much homework, pressure, tests. I don’t want summer to end.”
Person #6: “I’m so excited for school to start–I love seeing my friends every day…it’s gonna be a good year!”
I really love the moments in life that nudge us to consider the perspective of others. I talk about perspective a lot because it is so is important for the health of every relationship. But, as humans, we battle ourselves: it is easy to think that our own point of view is the correct one. But, instead, let’s recognize that a particular perpective can work for ourselves, but not be right for another person. It’s not a matter of the right way or the wrong way, but a different right for each person–even those with whom we are close.
Here are five thoughts to help us all consider the perspective of others:
  1.  Think about color or food preference. It’s easy to understand how someone could have a ‘favorite’ color or food that’s different than our own. This is simple to accept because it’s a low-stakes preference. Now, allow yourself to generalize this to other, more high-stakes differences. It’s harder to do, but requires equal consideration becuae each person is entitled to their own preferences, no matter how significant.
  2. Listen to the ‘why’. Encourage the other person to tell you all the reasons they hold their point of view or beliefs. Really listen and consider the reasons for that person’s perspective based on their life experiences, not your own.
  3. Resist the urge to stand firm on your own POVThe more we try to convince others to see things our way, the less likely they are to do so, and when we refuse to consider their perspective, the wall of difference just grows taller, and communication breaks down.
  4. Accept differences. It’s possible that, ultimately, you will not be able to agree on perspective. This is difficult, especially if the difference is with a family member or close friend, but each person needs to make the life choices that are right for them–even if it is difficult for us.
  5. Humans have capacity for dramatic changeYou may not believe that you are capable of changing your perspective, but you are! And if you do, your world will become a bigger, more loving space.
I’ve been following the sale of Bed Bath and Beyond to Overstock.com, which is now in the process of changing its name to Bed Bath and Beyond. Overstock began as a liquidator nearly 25 years ago, but has morphed into a traditional online retailer, except that its name continued to sound like it was in the business of selling overruns. Overstock needed a rebrand and now they have it. It feels like a brave and exciting move, and I hope it works!
This has me thinking…how many people could benefit from a rebrand but aren’t sure they want to take the risk. Could you use a new job, new friends, a fashion reboot, different interior design in your home? Almost all people feel the need for change—sometimes many changes as life progresses. It can be scary to change, but it can also be exhilarating and beneficial to our emotional growth.
But, before making dramatic changes, reflect on the following:
  1. Minor changes (hair, clothing, home accents) can be made with little contemplation as they can be changed again easily if you think you made a mistake. If you’re in a rut, sometimes this is a good place to start because the stakes are low.
  2. If you are thinking about making a major change (moving your home, a new job, a different partner), assess whether you are unhappy with yourself, and in search of something external that you hope will make you feel better. Recognize that if you are depressed or struggling with self-esteem, these feelings will follow you no matter what external changes you make. External change won’t fix internal struggles.
  3. Don’t be afraid of major change, but don’t be reckless. This can be difficult to contemplate because the urge for change can be powerful. Start by writing down your thoughts and feelings, pros vs cons, different options. Continue to do this for at least a few weeks. The act of writing helps you process thoughts and ideas, and it also slows you down, so you don’t act rashly and then regret it.
  4. If you assess that major change is necessary to improve your life, know that big changes, even when positive, can be difficult and stressful. Be sure that you are making a significant life change from a place of emotional strength, not weakness. It can be valuable to think, plan, talk to others, and reflect deeply on the change you want to make. Your change will be more successful when you have processed it and fully thought about how it will impact your life and the lives of those you care about.
  5. Be brave! Once you have made the choice to change, do it fully and don’t be afraid to ask for help and support along the way. Here’s to strength along your path to change!
I’ve been thinking about the smoke from the Canadian wildfires that we recently experienced in New York (as did other parts of the country). The fires are happening so far away, yet we still felt a profound impact.
To me, the smoke felt deeply symbolic: sometimes when others struggle, we aren’t immune to the impact. It may not be as obvious as actual smoke, but very often, the ripple effect is significant. This is true on a global level (for example, resources we need could be impacted by a war far away). Less obviously, but of equal importance, this also happens on a much more personal level.
Often people tell me they feel frustrated when their partner, parent or child is in a bad mood, because the ‘smoke’ from the other person’s bad mood might negatively impact their own life experiences or time with that person. However, if we think about it slightly differently it can be helpful. Just as smoke signals a fire, a bad mood is a sign that someone is struggling emotionally. They might have had a hard day, or maybe they are coping with a long-term issue with loss, depression or other life stressor.  The bad mood isn’t the true issue, so if we address this symptom with compassion, rather than frustration, it will strengthen the relationship, rather than create distance.
Here are few ways to show compassion, even when feeling frustrated. Different strategies may work better at different times and for different people. You can try them all and see what works best.
1. Focus on the person’s feelings, rather than their behavior:
Instead of “You’re being rude/obnoxious”, try “Are you feeling upset/angry?”
2. Give them space rather than confronting them:
Instead of “What’s going on, why are you behaving like this?”, try “I’m going out to run errands, text me if you want me to bring anything back for you.”
3. Don’t take it personally:  
Someone’s bad mood may be drifting in your direction but unless you know otherwise, recognize that it isn’t your fault. Respond with support, but don’t feel that you need to fix the problem that caused the bad mood.
4. Don’t overexpose yourself if it is feels negative:
If the ‘smoke’ feels like it is bad for you, take care of your health by leaving or disengaging. Let the person know that you are not angry, and that you will circle back once they have worked through their bad mood.
Here’s to looking through the lens of compassion!