Author - Dr. Donald B. Johnson

The UpSpiral & DownSpiral Of Wanting
The “Open Doors” Of Your Life
Feeling Threat Or Safety?
Separation: The Enormous Cost
Moving Beyond Trauma
The Three Teacups
February Focus: Celebrate Your Strengths!
National Relaxation Day…Did You Miss It?



Where does goal setting belong in the coaching process?

Goals are not where you start; they simply are just not.

If you have to start with goals, and I believe that you don’t, at least begin by asking a person how they got to their goals.  You ask something like, what is it that you think these goals will give you if you accomplish them?  What are you looking for these goals to provide for you or for others?  What do you think this goal will do for you?  How will its accomplishment make you feel?  In fact, what is it that you think a sense of accomplishment will do for you?


The second question is to ask if these goals are in any way aligned with a person’s real strengths and talents.  I do not believe that everyone can accomplish anything they choose to and I think when we tell people that we, as coaches, are not being ethical.

We have ways to test people’s strengths and talents that at least give us some indication of where their real abilities might be.  But that is just the start.

Parents can tell their children that they can be anything they choose to be. Teachers can encourage their students to reach for the stars.

But professional coaches had better be more careful in these making these promises, so closely tied to their fees, and inherent in their ethics and values.

Can we tell people to dream and to vision?  Most certainly.   But these dreams and visions come from a process of learning to live in an UpSpiral, and about how flow affects that nature of what we image in our vision.

I know there are exceptions of people accomplishing great things against great odds; there are a lot who don’t.  There are those who reach their impossible dreams only to find out that the dream was impossible in giving them what they expected that it would, and they feel betrayed and as though life is meaningless.

I do think that the process of accomplishing a goal and leaving it behind, gleaning what it has taught, and discovering to what new endeavor it points is valuable. I don’t mean to undermine that as a process of learning.

See your process of accomplishing goals as the “open door” of learning, novelty, insight, and allow that to move you to take the next right step.  If you’re really tuned in, that step is likely somewhere right in front of you, at hand, ready for you to seize upon it and move ahead.

Or not.

What I do mean to assert here is that coaches have an ethical responsibility to educate their clients in the formulation of goals and visions that are sound, achievable, and truly personally fulfilling.  We may be cheer leaders for winning but the pom-poms of superficially understood metaphysicsand neuroscience need to be surrendered for real research in coaching that is both a science and a craft and a skill.

The issue that underlies the formation of goals is meaning-making.  How do we make meaning? These “meanings” are different at different times in our lives, so a knowledge of developmental issues is important.

Oftentimes goals are attempts at making meaning when the absence of meaning has not been squarely faced.

How many times I have had a client simply write down a goal and see it in front of them for them to know it isn’t what they really want to do, it’s just confabulated filler?

Goals are an essential component of the coaching process, but only when they are preceded by the necessary foundational work in the neuroplasticity of the positive mind, which pokes at what’s meaningful, what’s most personally significant, all of which take form in written goals and action steps.

© Dr. William K. Larkin

The UpSpiral & DownSpiral Of Wanting

Have you ever gone to a store with the express purpose of buying something you needed, got home with one or two bags of things, and realized that you forgot what you went for?

You may have reasoned that you didn’t need a list, but on the way to the store, you weren’t particularly thinking about what you were going there to get. You were distracted by the traffic and the sights along the way. You found the store, and dutifully went into your destination without a thought in your mind about what you were there for.

Maybe you walked in with something gnawing on the back of your mind, but you shopped and got a few things, got distracted by a few others, found a good deal, and knew that you were in a hurry to get back home.

Then just before you got into your driveway, you realized that you didn’t get what you went for, and you weren’t about to turn around and go back and get it.

You aren’t alone, if this has happened to you,  because it has happened to most people more than one time. It is the way our brain works.

We don’t necessarily focus on what we intend to want, but more significant than that, we don’t always know what we want. In fact, a lot of the time, we don’t know what we really want.

We are much better at thinking we know what we want than we are at really knowing our wants and our desires.

Wanting and remembering what we want, and going after it, is much more significant than we give it play. We treat it something like going to the store for something that we forget. The long-term implications for living are that we can live our entire lives, and never really go after or do what we want to do.

In fact, we can live our entire lives, never ask, and never really know.

If you have dreamed a few times in your life, and you think the result has been some kind of mistake or even a disaster, you may have decided that you can’t trust what you dream or that what you want deeply just isn’t going to be yours.

If you have failed at what you dream many times, you may have decided that you are a failure for having had such dreams, and being foolish enough to follow them.

You were foolish not to have followed them.

Whether or not you were foolish doesn’t begin to be the issue. The issue is what have you learned. Or if you realized, considered, and were open to the learning, what has it taught you?

Many people just close off, not only to what they are dreaming, wanting, and desiring, but they have learned to trust someone else’s dreams or someone else’s best plan for them, deeply believing that their own “wanting” is flawed. That’s a good description of life in a DownSpiral.

You will never find what you want in a DownSpiral, at the bottom of the barrel, or going down further into it.

What you name in a DownSpiral is usually a reaction to not feeling good, it comes from resistance, or tiredness, or exasperation. They are not the ideas that will fulfill you.

When you are in a DownSpiral, you do not think of things in a realistic way, that will make you happy in the long term. And even though there may be exceptions, it is not the rule and not the easy way to do this. It is not the way that remains firm.

One requirement for identifying what you deeply want is to stay in an UpSpiral and use your strengths as guides.

© Dr. William K. Larkin


The “Open Doors” Of Your Life

Life Love

VibeCore is the place of your basic movement into and attachment to the world.

It is the place from which you either “go for it” or you don’t.

What you want may change in the process of bringing it into your life. It may change in nature, and it may come in a different package than you expected, but it will come.

What is the proof of this? Is there a proof? Yes. There are two places; the first is not as important as the second.

The first is research and the second is your history.

If you look at your history and you are honest, the proof is there. If you look at your history and you have shed the skins of the past, so you are not looking like or sounding like a “victim”, the proof is definitely there.

If you aren’t feeling sorry for yourself and if you’re honestly assessing where you are in life, you will find that you have gotten pretty much everything you have wanted in one way or another.

Where one door may have closed another door opened. Because you are born with resilience, “bounce back”, and an enormous capacity to process and learn from what has happened to you, in such a way, that always, where one door has closed, another has opened. It has brought, often disguised, what you really wanted.

You may not have liked everything you got.

You may have changed your mind about it when you got it, but all it did was form the next desire, the next want, and then you went on to get that in some form or another.

It is also true, if you are honest with yourself, that what you have resented and been angry about for a long time or whined about forever, has resulted in you creating more of the same in your life. Maybe you don’t like what you got, but you got what you wanted and it tried to teach you how to want with more clarity and self-understanding.

What we are getting now is still trying to teach us these lessons. If you see what you have gotten – whatever it may be – as a gift, that it is always a gift and are willing to learn the lessons it teaches, then you will get what you want faster and the next door will open more quickly.

Actually, the next doors open very quickly, usually. This whole process of life has been in the process of strengthening your VibeCore, if you are honest about it.

We do not spend nearly as much time as we think wandering in dark hallways unless we choose to.

The greater responsibility you take for having largely created your own life, the more freedom you have and the greater your sense of your own power.

The greatest proof of your VibeCore and its power in your life is finding its truth in your history. If you are honest, you will conclude that you have brought into your life, by the match of your wanting and believing, most everything you wanted.


© Dr. William K. Larkin 

Feeling Threat Or Safety?

Threat Ahead

We are on the side of history that studies the light-seeking, positive orientation of the Mind upon its servant, the brain.

We are traveling on this NeuroPositive, growth-evoking, light-seeking journey.

This shift to the knowledge and practice of NeuroPositivity is part of the shift of consciousness of the planet.

What is positive and good is everywhere, but it requires a lens. That lens is to see what is negative as a departure from the norm, and not the rule that determines our life and well-being.

What’s your lens?

Do you want to make yourself feel “threat” or “safety”?

Right now your heart is beating in a way that is signaling to your body that you are either safe or feeling threat.

Which is it for you?

It is entirely possible to be in threat when there is no real threat at all; we just think the negative thoughts that put us in threat.

In SAFETY your parasympathetic systems has you at rest, restoring you, healing you, building up your resilient reserves.

In threat, your sympathetic system is arousing the hormones of defense and flight and flight.

Your brain can be caught up in that process.

The negative has us fooled. We are seekers of light.

That is the choice: calm/connect or fight/flight?

Which describes you?

It is not a requirement to exhaust the lens of the negative before you can pick up the positive lens.

It is a more educated choice in the direction of the nature of being itself, but you may have to turn off the television, stop negative conversation and gossip, and generally be much more selective about what you take in, to claim the lens.

We can change our world of “threat” by our perceived notion that someone is getting ahead of us by checking our own need to worry about getting behind, losing time, having to hurry, running out of time, not getting everything done, and just letting it go.

The right side of history is the way the river is flowing, and that is in the direction and with the force of NeuroPositivty: well-being, improved health, thriving relationships, a deeper sense of meaning and personal significance, and increasing longevity.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 


Separation: The Enormous Cost

Us Them

Separating myself from another person has an ENORMOUS cost.

It is the kind of separation that is in my head and causes me to cast someone out of my inner circle of “loving” into my inner circle of “not caring.”

We usually do it because of anger or fear or both.

We are afraid that we will be hurt by them, and so we put them in a place in our mind that is “separate” from our caring, loving heart.

They are an outsider “inside of me.”

That is separation.

That separation distances us from the knowing and embodying a sense of Oneness.

The more disconnected we are from this sense of Oneness, the more we have lessened our vibration to draw to ourselves the things and people that we really want.


Because our alignment with our real self means being aligned with love.

Love is Source Energy within us, and it is our essential nature.

Forgiveness is not simply a matter of “forgiving and letting go of anger, dislike and disgust.”

Forgiveness is restoring our own inner “Oneness” by not casting outside the inner circle of our love anyone who has let us down, betrayed us, or caused us to personalize their indiscretion, in such a way that we believe that their shortcoming is about us instead of them.

We reduce the power of the “One” within us when we create inner mental “compartments” for the “outcasts” in our lives.

Those inner compartments reduce the vibration which creates our world, and draws rapidly and powerfully to us what we are really wanting.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 

Moving Beyond Trauma

Trauma Family

Perhaps one of the most popular approaches emerging from social work and public health is to help mothers with PTSD to deal with their infants so that they don’t reproduce their angst and stress in their young children.

The latest and best research in this area is the Polyvagal Theory by Dr. Stephen Porges. This truly is not theory, but rather the most significant and substantial research we have today in the area of what predisposes us to sympathetic nervous system, cortisol-driven, learned responses to trauma of any kind.

Trauma is trauma, just in degrees.

Focus on the trauma, and you will grow the reptilian brain’s identification with the trauma.

However, if you entirely change the focus to the parasympathetic potentials of the brain, and its very different different neuropathways, you grow a brain more frontal-lobe dependent.

I can promise you that whatever the past may be, that the future is always more compelling, if we will allow that change in our billion dollar, pharma-based, overly medicalized culture.

This “if” requires a huge shift from our focus on healing the past as the solution.


Once more, the future is more compelling than our past is in binding us.

We build that compelling future by taking the attention away from the focus on trauma, and place it on the discovery of scientifically tested strengths and their growth, and on identifying and growing the ever-present resiliency of the person.

Time is a great healer, when that time is filled with a focus on “can do”, “can be”, “can care”, “can give”, “can achieve”, “can find meaning”, “can find purpose”, “can contribute”, can learn one’s strengths, and can love others.

We are more compelled by the future than we are bound by the past.

Evolution depends on that truth!

We will never create the perfect world where mothers only pass on to their children high vagal tone, more resistant to trauma.

We can, though, teach their offspring that mother is not to blame, and that resiliency to trauma and recovery are within our grasp.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 

The Three Teacups

No, it’s not some 60s pop group. It’s the subject of some groundbreaking new research on mirror neurons, those wonderfully designed neural networks that help us tune in more deeply to others in a way we at ANI call “heart-to-heart identification.”

The teacup study is the work of Marco Iacoboni. His research clearly establishes the neurological basis for our ability to “track” with others, to give others the unmistakable signal to others that we are “with them,” that we “get them,” in a way that simple parroting and mimicry could never do. The firing of our mirror neurons, or not, is predictive of our capacity to connect with others at the deepest and most intimately personal levels. It signals to others that they have not only been heard, but “received” in a way that promotes an unmistakable and lasting interpersonal bond.

So what about the teacups? In Iacoboni’s study, the participants were shown 3 videos of the same action-a hand picking up a teacup. In one clip, there is just a hand and a cup-no real detail or context. In the second, the participants observed a rather crowded messy table, with bits of food, crumbs and soiled napkins. And in the third, they saw a neatly arranged tabletop, set for a special occasion. In all 3 video clips, they saw a hand reaching into the scene to pick up the teacup, in exactly the same way. The only difference in the 3 videos was the background-the context in which they saw the hand grasping the teacup.

The big question here is: did the mirror neurons in the participant’s brains fire any differently, signaling that they noticed differences in the 3 scenes? The answer turned out to be a most definite “yes.” When they were observing the first clip, with no context and just the hand and the teacup, their mirror neurons fired the least. In the second clip, with the table in disarray, their mirror neurons fired more actively. When participants viewed the 3rd scene, with the table neatly set, ready perhaps for dinner or a party, their mirror neurons fired the most. They had a “neural template” which was activated when they saw the 3rd scene. There was a pattern forged in their brain which could see the grasp of a teacup amidst a neatly set table, and fire mirror neurons to signal identification with and recognition of what was happening in ways that the others scenes could not. They had perhaps been gathered around a similarly set table, ready to drink from a cup in the course of a party. And so simply by viewing the neatly set scene at the table, in their minds, they were actually at the party.

So what’s the significance of the 3 teacups? Simply this. The study participants had an inner experience on which they could draw and with which they could identify- sitting around a table, eating and drinking. This caused their mirror neurons to fire, as if to say “Yes, I’m tuned in to this scene.  I know what this is and I can live it, dwell in the feeling of it in my brain when I see it, even though I’m not really there.”

Our personal experiences of positivity and negativity form in us these same “brain templates” which allow us to identify in deeply personal and close ways with others who express to us similar feelings and experiences. How deeply we can get in touch with the complex experience of positive or negative emotions in ourselves is the degree to which we can see them and identify with them in others.  Our mirror neurons guide us to this kind of “heart-to-heart” identification.

The mystic poet Rumi says, “Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart, and that depends upon how much he has polished it. Whoever has polished it more sees more — more unseen forms become manifest to him.”

The great gift of our mirror neurons guides us to a “greater polish” in our heart, for they transport us into a deeper state of hearing, understanding, feeling, and identifying with others as well as with ourselves. In this way, what seemed to remain hidden or “unseen” can be raised to a more loving state of “hearted knowingness.”

We carry within us a whole lifetime of deeply and richly embedded experience. The first step is developing the ability to get in touch with and draw positively upon every aspect of these experiences in ourselves- to see deeply into ourselves, to “self recognize.” And only then, when we recognize the same experiences in the words or actions of others, will our mirror neurons enable us to “reenact” in our own mind what others think and feel, heart-to-heart.

And to think it all started with the simple grasp of a teacup.


1) How do you see the “teacup” research translating into your own ability to experience “heart-to-heart identification” with others? Give us an example.

2) What tools do you have to “self recognize,” i.e., access your own deeply held thoughts and feelings in ways that promote positive “heart-to-heart” identification? Tell us your story.

3) In light of the research on mirror neurons and using your tools of positivity, comment on the quote from Rumi. How does “heart-to-heart” identification help to “polish” your heart? With yourself? With others?


February Focus: Celebrate Your Strengths!

This is a month wheRushmore.jpgn we celebrate, among other things, the birthdays of presidents, the Chinese Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day, and the beginning of a forty day period in the Christian calendar we call Lent. In this month of only 28 days, we get to experience it all-the greatness of well-known historical figures, the hope for a better “new year,” and the glories of love, all wrapped in the shroud of one Wednesday this month which seeks to persistently remind us of our mortality.

And so in a month of conflicting energies, what is it that I want for myself? Where am I going to choose to place my focus? What am I going to choose to celebrate?

The immediate answer is easy, at least for me. I’m casting aside the “morbidity” of February. I’m in no state of denial about it; but I have a choice either to celebrate the physical end of my life by focusing on it or to exalt the power of who I am NOW, always expressed so perfectly in my unique combination of strengths. I’ve learned to choose the latter. It just feels better, it just raises my UpSpiral, it just makes me more and more clear about the power of the “real me.” Knowing consciously that I have a perfect set of strengths, built in and ready to go, always at hand for any and all situations, is my February Valentine’s gift to myself. Bringing those strengths “home to me”…applying them to me…knowing that they’re mine, always and forever…making them real in my own life…that’s the gift this month. It’s that simple.Necco_Hearts.jpg

One of my top 5 Signature Strengths is “the capacity to love and be loved.” So in this month when the culture around us focuses largely on love and relationships, I’m using this strength as a challenge for myself-in how many ways can I express love for myself? How can I love myself more? What does “loving me” look like? How does “loving me” feel? And then, how can I reflect this love I have for myself outwardly to others? To my family? To my friends? To the many communities in which I participate? Too often we think that strengths are to be used only “out there,” for the good of others. Now there’s certainly nothing wrong with “spreading the love.” But without a sense of how I express this “capacity to love and be loved” to myself, there’s really very little to give. It’s just that simple.Jack_All_Trades.JPG

Many of us were raised with the belief that one’s goal in life was to be “well-rounded,” to excel in a number of areas, to develop a broad repertoire of thought which would produce a kind of ideal personality. It has been described as being the “Renaissance” man or woman, a “jack-of-all-trades.” Much has been written in positive psychology lately about this belief, because what it really expresses is the opposite of using one’s strengths. The Gallup Organization has done some significant studies in this area. In the area of relationships, this “jack-of-all-trades” approach has come to be called “rounding.” It’s the belief, now confirmed by research, that the goal of “being all things to all people” is not only a myth but is also essentially destructive to the development and growth of healthy relationships. It promotes compromise and self-defeating behavior. And you can also “round” yourself- by closing yourself off from receiving the gifts that others bring to you, or by simply not engaging the strengths which you already have. Instead, let your unique set of strengths “shine” in every relationship, including your relationship with yourself. It’s “you being you,” engaging your strengths, that produces the most enduring and healthy relationships. “Rounding” means you shrink from the authentic expression of your strengths for some perceived gain in being “all things” to “all people” in “all situations.” What’s really happening is just the opposite. You’re simply being “less than yourself.” The real power in relationships is to see how your strengths complement those of others, to see the synergy in the combined power of your strengths with those of others, and to love and appreciate yourself all the more for knowing your own giftedness.  Valentine_Treats.jpg

How are you “rounding” yourself? How are you “rounding” others?

So go ahead this month and admit it. You can’t do it all by yourself. You really can’t be that “Renaissance” personality, going it alone. Your’re not the “Lone Ranger.” But with your strengths engaged, you can be true to yourself and to others, and in so doing, shine as who you really are!


National Relaxation Day…Did You Miss It?

Saturday, August 15th was the date…a whole day set aside to remind us of the need to relax! It seems typical of the age we live in that we need to be reminded to Planner.jpgtake the time to adjust our daily routine and consciously dedicate one whole day to relaxation. And for those of us who didn’t even know there was such a holiday, the reminder to pause and focus on what brings a greater sense of peace, relaxation, and yes, even fun, to our lives, is a sure sign that we need to mark our calendars now for every August 15th in the foreseeable future!

A recent post on the website provides some recommendations on a proper observance of this holiday. They include:
• Take the whole day off, lounge around the house; just enjoy a lazy day.HourGlass.jpg
• Read a good book, watch a movie or TV marathon that you enjoy.
• Spend the day in a setting that is tranquil and relaxing.
• Spend time relaxing on your patio or deck.
• Take a technology break. Let your calls ALL go to voice mail. Revisit your connection with silence and nature.
• Pamper yourself with a massage or spa visit.
• Take a break from cooking and household chores. Order out or dine out.

There is a Starbucks4.jpgwhole new branch of positive psychology dedicated to the nature and importance of “savoring” in our lives. Recent studies in this area have confirmed what to many may seem obvious, i.e., that there are significant physical and emotional benefits to one’s ability to focus on the positive feelings associated with everyday activities. This means, for example, that an otherwise perfunctory visit to Starbuck’s becomes an occasion for savoring. When I first came to the desert, and found my favorite coffee spot, it became a place where I began to connect with others. I became aware as well of how long I had waited to relocate here, how much I loved the desert landscape, and of the joys and challenges I had met along the way. These all became the “fuel” of my savoring. And eventually, all of this became an occasion of even deeper gratitude for my very self and for my journey.

So, mark your calendars today…don’t let another holiday like this one get away. Savor the idea that there even is such a holiday, and sBuddha2.jpgee if you can begin to celebrate it a little every day.

Why wait another whole year? Go ahead, relax right now and savor the positive emotions you feel.

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute