What Lies Beneath

Everything can look good on the surface, but what lies beneath can be the key to improvement. I grew up in a small town. Everyone knew everyone’s business. At least everyone knew how to keep up appearances. It was clear then, and is clear now, keeping up appearances can interfere with building healthier lives.


More and more of us are getting caught in this trap because social media functions much like a small town. You can put your best face forward, control the narrative, and avoid the need to make any substantial change to your real life.

We all want to present ourselves in the best possible light. That’s human nature and good marketing. And there’s nothing wrong with that…to a point. But the temptation is to become so married to a particular narrative that we stop telling ourselves the truth. This is especially true when the warped version of the truth is gaining us positive attention or accolades.

The opposite can also be true. If we are accustomed to being treated as though our accomplishments don’t matter, we may become married to a story that doesn’t allow us to recognize and celebrate real achievement. Or we may repeatedly take on the role of the victim or downtrodden.

I know from years of interviewing job candidates, most of us are either terrible self-assessors or remarkable fibbers. And it seems like we’ve become more thin-skinned. Knowing this, it’s difficult to get reliable, balanced feedback. This in turn feeds our skewed vision of ourselves.

So what, you may ask. If I want to see myself as perfect, isn’t that a reflection of good self-esteem? Uh no, no one is perfect. If I don’t take credit, isn’t that a reflection of my humility? Uh, maybe. But it could also be that you don’t take credit because you might be asked to perform at a higher level next time and you don’t want to put out any more effort.

Honest assessment of ourselves and our environment, situation, values, limits, and abilities are key to maximizing health. Without it, improvement programs will not work other than for a short period of time. Or we’ll never embark on a journey toward betterment because we simply won’t see the need.

What can we do to support honest evaluation of what lies beneath?

Learn about our relationship to shame. If shame is getting in the way, learn techniques for bypassing this obstacle. Dr. Brené Brown is a great resource for this exploration.

Flip the script. Challenge yourself to answer questions with answers opposite to your normal response then sit with the reverse answer and see how it feels. We know the truth deep down. If the opposite feels like there’s some truth to it, begin further investigation. You don’t have to do this in an environment that would threaten your job or family. Use online personality assessments, interest surveys, dating sites, etc. for this purpose (read privacy policies carefully).

Listen to friends who aren’t afraid to deliver bad news. The friend who tells you your shoes don’t smell bad when you know you just stepped in dog poop is not a reliable resource. They can still be your friends, just don’t include them when you need reliable feedback. Skips the opinion of friends who specialize in bad news as well. Their bias is unhelpful as well.

Practice self-care. Hearing the truth will sometimes be hard and temporarily painful. Regular self-care practices will create some insulation that makes be pain feel less intense.

Remember the benefit. Like GI Joe said, “Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that. Once we clearly understand who we are and where we are in our journey, we can move forward efficiently and effectively. Think of honest assessment as removing half the obstacles. Whew! Who wouldn’t want to do that?

I know that realistic self-assessment is easier said than done when we dig deep into those things we’ve never spoken out loud. At one point, I just stood in the mirror and asked myself to name the worst thing I’d ever done. Once I did that, I asked myself whether I could forgive a friend who had done the same thing. The answer felt freeing.

I followed that by asking myself if there was any way I could begin to view the moment in which I experienced the worst thing ever done to me as one in which the universe was as it was meant to be. This one is really hard. But when bad things happen to other people, we often take this view. Why not try on how it might feel from the inside? Again, the answer felt freeing. It didn’t immediately change anything, but it did take away some of the feeling of being personally targeted.

The success of many projects is determined by the preparation that precedes it. Exploring what lies beneath the appearance we project can be the key to achieving better health.

Wishful Eating

You won’t reach optimal health through wishful eating. If you read enough studies and watch enough food documentaries, you’ll find so much conflicting information it may seem as if wishful eating will work as well as following any specific eating regimen. There may be a kernel of truth in that belief, but for most of us, eating for optimal health will require knowledge and discipline.

What is wishful eating?

Wishful eating is like wishful thinking. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines wishful thinking as: the attribution of reality to what one wishes to be true or the tenuous justification of what one wants to believe

Wishful eating is similar in that we decide whatever we want to eat is healthy for us even when we have evidence to the contrary. For example, someone with a diagnosis of celiac disease may decide it’s okay to eat birthday cake as along as they don’t eat bread. But the fact is that birthday cake will damage their small intestine in the same manner as bread. It’s not healthier because we like it better. fried chicken, fried fish, pinto beans, mashed potatoes, and pizza take their place.

I’ve seen wishful eating that meant a person never ate sandwiches or rolls because they “don’t eat” carbs. On the other hand, they consumed potato chips almost every day and pizza two or three times a week. While it’s true eliminating sandwich bread and rolls reduces the total amount of grain carbs consumed, if you’re eating potato chips and pizza, you DO eat carbs.

Wishful eating is sometimes wishful shopping. I have friends whose pantries and refrigerators are continually stocked with lettuce, green beans, turkey, chicken, steak, cheese, apples, oranges, and pineapple, but when mealtime comes, the food remains undisturbed. Fast food or soul food that fresh food in the house, its easier to hold onto the idea that they are eating healthily.

All of us indulge in wishful eating occasionally. The eating itself may not be problematic. The larger risk is when it becomes a habit. By its nature, wishful thinking requires setting aside reality in favor of what we want to believe. That can make it difficult to tell ourselves the truth.

Without the truth, we are likely to deny or ignore anything that needs to change. And until we can clearly identify the obstacles that keep us from optimum health, we cannot begin to change them. Wishful eating is a way for us to remain stuck and not feel conflicted or remorseful.

It’s also a way for us to sway others to support our current path. And with reinforcement, change becomes even more elusive.

Perhaps this is a good time to discard old habits along with our used holiday gift wrap and regroup for a healthier 2023! The magic begins when wishful eating ends!

What You See is What You Get

What you see is what you get could be rephrased as what you don’t see, you can’t enjoy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched one of my kids or grandkids struggle to find a toy that’s right in front of them. It’s always funny because I can see it so clearly while they overlook the toy with a blank stare. If they continue to overlook it, they don’t get to play with it.

In a similar way, I sometimes find myself seeing every single problem around me and failing to see what’s going well. It’s right under my nose, but I look past it to the next problem. I know I’m not the only one. I have seen friends, family, and clients do the same thing.

And why wouldn’t we? For some of us, life has provided inescapable circumstances that made it necessary to guard against a next inevitable outburst, attack, cruelty, or manipulation. We learned to be astute detectives of negative energy. We can feel the slightest shift in tone, mood, tension, set of a jaw, or raise of an eyebrow.

When we have repeatedly been blamed for someone else’s mood or behavior, we learn to personalize the negativity. Again, why wouldn’t we?

We meet each day with a foundational slant toward self-protection. Self-protection can be a part of self-care. But it’s only healthy when balanced by an ability to recognize and absorb the positive, to solve problems rather than just avoid them, and to have the capacity to step back and gain perspective.

This can be difficult when a day bombards us with things that are noisy, annoying, frustrating, unfair, difficult, and stressful. It’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of disagreeable, anger-making people and events, especially when we are tired, overworked, underappreciated, sick, or suffering from trauma or loss. Once we’ve been sucked in, it becomes even more difficult to see anything beyond what’s wrong in every relationship or situation.

And it can be hard to argue with our position because our complaints may be on point. Customer service should be more knowledgeable and helpful. Bosses should treat all employees fairly. Police shouldn’t profile. Minorities shouldn’t experience discrimination. White people should get the same consequences as POC. Rich people should be held accountable for unethical or illegal behavior. Policies should protect the vulnerable.

For anyone whose vortex pulls toward self-limiting thoughts, those may also feel true. Statistically, it may be less likely for you to get your dream job because of your race or your age. You may be less likely to get into the college of your choice if your parents cannot donate to its Foundation.

It isn’t unusual for someone to get caught in a cycle of negativity. And given the current failures of so many systems and institutions, it can be more difficult to extract ourselves.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to help change that.

Start by recognizing that what you see is what you get. When you focus on negative. You’ll only get negative. The good may be right there, but you will not get the benefit of it because you are focused elsewhere.

Collectively, we know this. How many movies have you seen where a character overlooks someone offering love, kindness, loyalty, and dependability in favor of someone who does not?

Find a token that reminds you to notice each small kindness or lucky break in your days. A bracelet, ring, watch, desk ornament, screen saver, bookmark, plant – anything will work. It just needs to be something that will pull your attention regularly.

If it helps you, keep a tally. You can do this as a text thread to yourself. Create a new contact on your phone just for this. Each time someone smiles at you, holds the door, tells you they appreciate something you did, apologizes, compliments you, helps you lift something, add it to your tally. Add up the score each day or each week. Sit with that number and allow yourself to see how it makes you feel.

Practice opposites. This is fun for rebellious people like me. We like flipping things anyway. Here’s how that may look. When you have a thought like: I won’t get that job because…(negative, negative, negative), flip it around to an opposite idea: I will get that job because I’m willing to work harder than anyone else (Even if you can’t bring yourself to say you’re the most experienced, talented, or best candidate, you have the ability to exert effort and claim that as a reason to hire you.) Trust me, I’ve hired a lot of people. I’ll take the employee who works hard over the most talented any day!!!

Question yourself. No one has to know you’re doing this. Just do it as an exercise. When your self-talk says: My boss always wants me to fail, question that thought. Begin by stating this as a belief rather than fact: I believe my boss wants me to fail. Follow that with this question: Do I know for a fact my belief is true?

Unless your boss has told you or someone else in the organization, they want you to fail and unless you have seen that in writing or heard a recording, you don’t know it for a fact. You have that perception, but it could be wrong. Stick with that possibility for a minute and ask this question: If I am wrong and they don’t want me to fail, what would I do differently?

Turn the answer into action. Do whatever it is you would do differently in response to the above question as an experiment. Commit to it for a period of time (at least a month) and notice the results.

Let yourself be surprised. Since you’re doing an experiment for yourself, you will not lose face if you’re wrong so let yourself be surprised by whatever happens. If things get worse, you just learned you need to get out of a situation that’s never going to let you fill your potential. If things get better, whoo-hoo you win! There’s really no downside to this.

Trust yourself. I know you may read this and say I am trusting myself. That’s how I know things are bad. True on one level. But that’s only one level. When you fully trust yourself, you’ll be able to set that aside and know you can be okay even when things are bad.

And the more you learn to trust those parts of yourself that may not have had the safety to develop, the more you will recognize you can be more than okay. You can achieve, inspire, be your best self…thrive.

The good is there. You just have to see it. What you see is what you get.


Every day, I am acutely aware of the uncertainty that surrounds me. In my state, one in five are uncertain whether they will have access to enough food to live a healthy, active lifestyle. That’s 20% of the population facing food insecurity.

In 2020 when my city recorded 49 murders, the rate was 24.8/100,000. That was above the national average of 6.5/100,000 people. To date this year, we have had 70 murders. These include a small child who was shot and killed in a car riding to the zoo.

Not all shooting victims die. Last week, a mother and her two-year-old were wounded while driving on the interstate. Three nights ago, gunshots rang out at the end of the block when I was standing on my front porch saying goodnight to my sister. We all flinched, shook our heads, and went back to business. My neighborhood stopped calling the cops over gunfire years ago. It was pointless.

Before you get too excited by that statement. Yes, we call 9-1-1 if someone gets hurt. Even that can be dicey. A few years ago, I called to report that there was a man outside my house yelling that he had been shot. First question from 9-1-1, “What color is he?” Huh?! How ‘bout just send an ambulance?

Then came the pandemic in which we’ve amassed the eighth-highest death rate from COVID-19 in the country. We’re 33rd in population so those12,000ish deaths that represents haven’t been enough to trigger support for mitigation policies or push the number of those fully vaccinated to 60%.

Life is more tenuous here than in many places. And we haven’t even gotten to the high incidence of chronic health conditions, high ACE scores in children, high rate of domestic violence, or the number of children needing permanent homes.

How does all that uncertainty affect us?

Uncertainty is a fact for everyone, but some are able to construct situations that keep the feelings of worry and anxiety it can bring at bay. But with the pandemic came uncertainty for everyone for a time. It swiftly became clear our mettle was going to be tested as individuals and as a society.

We haven’t yet gotten ahead of SARS CoV-2 so we can’t fully analyze who dealt with its reality best. But there are indications that many of us white-knuckle clutched onto anything from before the pandemic that made us feel more certain (or normal).

And we have demanded those things even when scientific evidence could not support us having them – large weddings or funerals without masks before vaccines in indoor spaces; sporting events; concerts; indoor dining; maskless classrooms. This leaves me to ponder whether we’re more concerned about losing our artificial sense of certainty than we are about sacrificing our actual safety?

I also wonder whether the undertow pulling progress backward in states like mine is related to discomfort with uncertainty. We know what happens if we do things like we’ve always done them. We aren’t so sure what will happen if we vary.

Some people may think I’m talking about fear of change. But we willingly change things all the time. We change our hair color, houses, décor, clothes, schools, jobs, hairdressers, doctors, vacation destinations, etc. We embrace change we have determined will bring something we desire. We may not have absolute certainty, but we have an adequate level of confidence to feel comfortable taking the risk.

When change is forced on us, uncertainty comes with it. In that situation, some thrive. They seem to be able to rely on the fact that they’ll be okay even if they don’t know what comes next.

I feel like that’s the key: The knowing you’ll be okay whether things are certain or not. Because things are never certain. You may think they are until lightning strikes, a hurricane blows in, or a stray bullet hits your window.

If that’s the key, it would follow that progress, growth, and improvement are all facilitated by a deep knowing that whatever happens, we will be okay. That sounds really big! It is. And that’s for another post.

For now, I’ll leave you with a few things to contemplate:

  • Can you sit with uncertainty and still feel calm, safe, and comfortable with yourself and your path (maybe not every moment, but overall)?
  • Do you tell yourself the truth even when it makes you feel less certain than denial or fantasy?
  • Are you comfortable with allowing for the possibility of an unknown outcome?
  • Are you confident enough to learn rather than jumping to conclusions that feel certain?
  • Do you sell yourself short in order to create a more certain outcome?
  • Does uncertainty cause you distress in some situations, but not others?  
  • If you were certain it would turn out okay, what would you do that you’re not doing now?

Certainty is a powerful illusion. One that we often count on to our own detriment. We can change that but first we must get more comfortable allowing ourselves space to feel uncertain.