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Leah Brecher-Cohn, LMFT, MS, MA
May 3, 2004

Recently, my clients have been coming in and talking about not having the discipline to carry out some of the promises they've made to themselves: to diet, to exercise, to finish a project, to get their children to sleep at night. 

In my opinion, our contemporary culture is really lacking in discipline (see statistics on obesity, consumer debt, etc). But is it so difficult? In theory, no, it's not. The simple truth is this: discipline is focus. If we can be disciplined enough to focus, which means to consciously draw our attention to something, then we have effectively re-directed ourselves in the direction we want to go. What we focus on becomes our reality (whether positive or negative).

The problem is this: if this discipline were easy, we'd be doing it already. And when things get hard, like when we promise to do something that we think is good for us to do, we will often judge/blame ourselves for not doing it. "How could I possibly have forgotten to go for that morning walk?", "I am an idiot for staying up to watch Conan O'Brien when I promised myself I'd be in bed by 10.", "It is no use trying to lose weight because I can't say no to ice cream."

This is where the rubber of change meets the road of reality. And here are some ideas to stay on track:

  1. Set yourself up to win by having a realistic goal. 

  2. Motivate yourself by having a picture in your mind of your end goal.

  3. Make microscopic changes. For example, start out exercising 1 minute a day and work up to your desired number of minutes. 

  4. Surround yourself with supportive people. They can cheer you on and love you through a set-back. 

  5. Reward yourself for your small wins as well as your big ones. 

  6. Love yourself no matter what and keep going. 

Yes, self-discipline is challenging. Consciously directing ourselves, disciplining ourselves, may be the most challenging thing we ever do. But that makes perfect sense. The reward of self-discipline is nothing short of freedom. As Bernard Baruch said, "In the last analysis, our only freedom is the freedom to discipline ourselves."

Leah Brecher-Cohn, LMFT, MS, MA
January 31, 2011

Isn't it interesting that when a new baby is born we all see how precious and lovable that child is. But as soon as they grow up, we tend not to see the magnificent essence of that being? I was talking to a client about her two-year-old daughter and how she would sit in her highchair and throw food on the floor, spill her milk, and make a complete mess. The mom would patiently clean up the mess and continue to speak kindly to her daughter. Most of us would respond that way to our children. We understand on a basic level the difference between who that child is and what her actions are. But guess what? Adults still have the same precious, lovable essence they did when they were babies. It may be challenging to see, but it's there.

One of the most fundamental tools I teach my clients is the awareness of essence vs. behavior. This is such an important concept. Our essence is our intrinsic goodness; it's the part of us that is innocent, precious and connected to Spirit. We see it so clearly in babies. That's why we love to be around them. Well, each one of us still has that essence. Even the person in your life who aggravates you the most has that essence.

If you've heard the Buddhist greeting "Namaste"- that's a recognition that the soul within us recognizes the soul within another. One essence seeing another.

Behavior is what we do - the good, the bad and the ugly. Sometimes we behave appropriately and sometimes we don't. But the greatest action that we can take at any given moment is to decide to see past the behavior (our own actions or the actions of others) and find the essence. When you can see the person in your life who is really pushing your buttons as a soul- a spiritual being, you can then appropriately direct your feedback to their behavior. You have shifted your focus from, "this person is an idiot and how could they..." to "this person's behavior is like spilling milk. And yes they need to clean it up because they are an adult, but they are still a worthwhile person who deserves to be treated with respect."

It takes some practice to shift your focus from behavior to essence. I encourage you to:

  1. Take a deep breath;
  2. Remember the story of the baby in the highchair;
  3. See the essence of who the person really is; and
  4. Give your feedback about the behavior with respect and kindness.


I believe it was Wayne Dyer who said "when you change the way you see things, the things you see change." When we change our focus from one's behavior to his/her essence, we see ourselves and others differently. And that difference is a gift of love to both us and to others.


Leah Brecher-Cohn, LMFT, MS, MA
August 1, 2011

One of my clients recently came in and expressed his feelings of overwhelm. He felt overcommitted at work, stressed at home, and generally confused. He said that he didn't feel that there was any time left for him. I reminded him that to stay in balance, we can only give from the overflow. And I asked him: Would he be willing to try an experiment?

I asked him to imagine that he had in front of him a large jar, and some sand, water, pebbles and 3 big rocks. I told him that he had to fit everything into the jar, and then asked him, "what should you put in the jar first?" He thought for a moment and then said that he had to put the three big rocks in first, because he would never be able to fit them in if the other items went in first. Bingo!

If we don't take care of ourselves by making sure that our "big rocks"- the most important activities and uses of our time- are in the jar first, we certainly won't be able to take care of all the other people in our lives or the work that has to get done. And we probably will feel overwhelmed, resentful, stressed and/or confused. Some of the "big rocks" my clients talk about are:

  • Listening to music
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Being in nature
  • Vitamins/nutritional supplements
  • Reading
  • Praying
  • Writing in a journal
  • Drawing/painting
  • Getting enough sleep, etc.


Notice that these are actions that you do on your own. And that after doing them, the benefits that you receive include feeling more balanced, more "yourself."

What are your big rocks? What makes you feel good? What keeps you in balance? I encourage you to identify your three big rocks and practice them at least several times a week. Prioritization requires attention and discipline; when our activities reflect what's most important to us then we can generously give from the overflow.