12 Ways to Design for Better Sleep Quality and to Cultivate Healthy Sleep Habits

Chronic sleep deprivation has devastating consequences in our lives. Here are just a few of the consequences of chronic lack of sleep:

  • Poor school and job performance
  • Difficulty taking information in and processing it accurately, listening or reading
  • Makes learning new tasks and concepts much harder
  • Greatly increased chance of making mistakes and even endangering lives for by driving while sleep deprived
  • Diminishes capacity to make decisions 
  • Negative attitudes and pessimism
  • Impaired immune function
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Increases:
    • difficulty organizing
    • difficulty letting go of things leading to excess clutter which then makes it even harder to sleep well
    • ADD-like symptoms such as distractibility and impulsivity
    • difficulty dealing with stress
    • emotional sensitivity which exacerbates depression and anxiety
    • challenges with managing emotions, temper blowups, crying jags, etc.
    • chronic fatigue and fybromyalgia-like symptoms such as muscle pain
    • overall sensitivity to pain 
    • relying on drugs to help you sleep 
    • risk-taking behavior
    • risk of addiction

Sleep is now being recognized as the most effective “medicine” you can take to enhance your entire life.  It may be the most essential ingredient to emotional, mental and physical functioning. Contrary to what many people believe, sleep is the the most productive use of time possible. The idea that giving up sleep will lead to greater achievement may be the most tragic myth of our era.  

The truth may be that our brains are MOST productive and performing their most valuable functions while we are sleeping. During sleep, our conscious mind goes dormant so that the rest of our brain can focus intensely on processing what we experienced that day. Experts now report that sleep is actually the time when our brain is doing the work of reviewing, sorting, decluttering and storing our experiences in a way that makes it more useful to us. In other words, sleep is our prime time for organizing and learning so that we can perform even better the next day with a fresh clear conscious mind.  (Adapted from Source: Brain Rules)

When you think of sleep this way, as the most valuable performance and productivity enhancing tool you could ever have, why would you EVER sacrifice it for anything less than a truly life threatening emergency?  

Getting plenty of good quality sleep is having your own professional life and wellness coach, therapist, productivity consultant, and organizer living with you 24/7 to help you declutter, organize more effectively and enhance your creativity, productivity, problem solving ability and overall health.  And the best part is that sleep is free.  

So what’s the catch?

 You must figure out  how to make your sleep the number one priority in your life. You must learn how to design your entire life to protect and defend and support your ability to sleep well at night. 

You and only you can establish the boundaries, set the limits, and say no to the stuff that keeps you from being able to sleep.  

 What better investment could you make than to invest whatever it takes to optimize your ability to sleep, enhance your sleeping conditions and cultivate habits that make it easier to sleep at night?  

From this perspective, you can see how using drugs to help you sleep may actually be making the problem worse — because drugs disguise the real roots of the issues that are impairing your ability to make sleep the highest priority in your life.  Using drugs to sleep camouflages the difficulties you may be having saying NO and making the tough decisions needed to design your life to enhance the quality of your sleep.  

When we have trouble sleeping, it’s very tempting to turn to drugs for instant relief. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to take melatonin or other aids occasionally, but the price of chronic sleep aid use can be staggering. What we know now about how sleep aids affect your brain and impair the quality of sleep makes it even easier to see why chronic use of sleep aids can lead to depression, and even to developing other disorders such as an eating disorder. Here’s an eye-popping example of the harmful impact sleep aids can have.

“One woman gained 100 pounds before finally realizing that Ambien was at fault…Sleep-eating can occur spontaneously or in association with other drugs, so Ambien may not be the only culprit. But the researchers think that there’s something about Ambien that leads to sleep-eating in some people. Presumably only a very small percentage of users are susceptible, but with millions of Americans taking Ambien every year, the sleep-eaters could number in the thousands.”

Source: New York Times Editorial, March 14, 2006


The ripple effects a single seemingly small behavior can have on the rest of your life is stunning. It’s like that with organizing, too. Once you start designing and organizing your time, space and stuff more strategically, the ripple effects can lead to remarkable improvements in your overall energy and in all of the 8 Dances of Life

The very act of choosing to take the time to design your home and things to figure out how to get them to serve your most important needs (such as sleep) is a powerful act of self-advocacy.

What many people don’t realize is what an important role your bedroom plays in the quality of your sleep and in your ability to establish healthy sleep habits. How you design your bedroom to serve you in sleeping well makes a tremendous difference.

Unfortunately, many people put the design of their bedroom on the bottom of their priority list.  Why?  ”Because no one sees it” is what I often hear.  But that’s not true.  YOU see it.  and YOU are just as important as everyone else.  

Too many people regard their bedroom as a place to put everything they don’t want other people to see, or as a multi-functional activity space. They watch TV, exercise, work and more in the bedroom. The ripple effect of this is often insomnia, stress and related health problems. Getting clear about the value of sleep and making it your highest priority will help you make the tough design decisions needed to rethink your bedroom, make it a sacred space and organize it to support your sleep well.

Here are 12 ways you can design for healthier sleep habits and get the rest and renewal you need to improve your performance, health, energy, learning, decision-making ability and productivity. 

  1. Move activities that don’t support sleep and romance out of your bedroom. Design your bedroom for activities that help you sleep better.  Activities like meditating, journaling or anything that helps you release stress, relax and fall asleep easily.

    If you aren’t sleeping well, take a good look around your bedroom.
    Do you have a computer or work desk in there?
    Exercise equipment? TV? Telephone?

    If you have them all in there, you will be more vulnerable to sleeping issues.  Find new homes for them. Taking the telephone out of our bedroom made a big difference for me. Even though it rarely rang, just knowing “could” affects sleep quality. Sleep is too important to let wrong numbers or telemarketers wake you up.

  2. Clear the clutter. If your bedroom is full of clutter, your mind will be cluttered too. If your mind is cluttered, it’s very difficult to relax and sleep.  Clutter is stagnant draining energy. Sleep is meant to refuel your energy.  Clutter interferes with the quality of sleep by sucking your energy as your body is trying to create it. Clearing clutter is a great foundation for releasing stuck energy and freeing your brain to do it’s work and wake up refreshed after getting a good night’s sleep.


     If you have trouble deciding where to start, Here are some options. Start with the floor and the surfaces in your room. Later, go deeper into closets and drawers. Clear out things you no longer use. Throw out or repair anything that is broken. Finish things that are undone or get rid of them. Put your laundry in the hamper.

  3. Give everything in your bedroom a designated home. One of the common sources of challenging clutter in the bedroom is clothing you’ve worn, but is not dirty enough to put in the hamper yet. Designate a space for your “gently worn” clothing. This can be hooks placed on a door or inside your closet; a special drawer; a wardrobe shelf; a coat rack, or even a chair — just keep them neat and don’t use the floor or your bed.
    To reduce clutter in the bedroom, things you use often need to be easy to find, easy to get out, and easy to put away. If you have drawers, but never put things in them, figure out why and fix them, or perhaps get rid of them. Use shelves with containers, or a wardrobe with doors instead. Make sure you have a table or nightstand with a drawer or a container on it near your bedside to help reduce visual clutter.  A place to to keep items like earplugs, lotions, tissues, lint brushes, scissors, etc. goes a long way to reducing clutter. If you have a lot of things on your dresser, consider getting a large container to hold it all or use one of your top drawers to hold all but 3-7 of your most frequently used items. Designate a drawer or shelf for purses. Be creative. You don’t have to do things the way everyone else does. The only rule is that things need a home so they don’t become visual clutter that causes your brain to activate and work overtime. 
  4. Dust regularly.  Especially if you have pets. Excess dust and pet hair in your room makes it harder for you to breathe. Dust can cause allergy symptoms and seriously disturb your sleep. Design Idea:  Keep dusting wipes and supplies in a utility closet or area near your bedroom so that you can easily dust frequently. Remember, don’t only do the surfaces! Many people let dust collect under beds, furniture, on curtains, etc. for months and sometimes even years. Do in-depth dusting 2-4 times a year to enhance the quality of your sleep.
  5. Position your bed advantageously. In Feng Shui, placement of objects is essential to encouraging positive energy flow. I don’t why it works exactly, but it really does. The energy you feel and the quality of your sleep changes when you change the position of your bed. Best orientation for the bed includes: Make sure you can see the door from your bed.  Don’t place your bed directly in front of the door if you can help it. The best position in the room allows you to feel more secure and enhances sleep overall. to learn more about how clutter and furniture placements affects the overall energy of your bedroom check out these books:  (Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui and Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life)
  6. Change the sheets.Your sheets can be a source of your insomnia in part because they collect dust, but also because they absorb energy. Sounds a little weird I know, but it’s true. Think about it. You spend 6-8 hours a night in them. And, don’t you usually sleep best when you have nice clean fresh sheets? If you don’t believe me, try it anyway! What could it hurt? Make sure you change your sheets at least once a week, but for some people who are very sensitive to energy and dust, every 3 to 5 days works even better. If you have trouble sleeping, color could be part of the problem. Sheets in soft, restful colors like white, tan, brown, soft green and blue are usually more relaxing.
  7. Do a comfort and ergonomics check. Are your pillows the right ones for you? Is your bed soft enough to not cut off your circulation during the night? Are the colors in your room soothing? Does your alarm clock wake you up gently or do you hate the sound of it? I found it much easier to wake up once I started using a “dawn-simulating” alarm clock.
  8. Let light and air in during the day. Refresh the energy in your bedroom daily. Open blinds and let natural light in. If you can, air the bedroom out for at least 15 minutes a day. Fresh air often enhances sleep. Spend time in nature during the day. Don’t you always find you sleep great after a day outdoors? If you can, leave a window at least partially open at night – especially if you sleep with your bedroom door closed. 
  9. Design a nighttime ritual for unwinding and encouraging sleepiness.Start  1-2 hours before want to get sleepy. Don’t perform cognitive or physically strenuous activities just before bed. For example, don’t pay your bills, don’t watch violent or suspense-filled, or complex, action filled shows or movies.  Don’t read violent or suspenseful stories.  Avoid watching the news or any other things that tend to activate your emotions or cause you stress just before bed.

    Many people watch the news in bed, or take work-related reading into bed with them, and then wonder why they can’t sleep. Instead, choose activities that won’t get your adrenaline going and that tend to sedate you.

    You might start your evening ritual by preparing anything you can to reduce any concerns you might have about being ready for the next day. For example, make tomorrow’s To Do list, pick out clothes, gather things you need to take with you, etc.  Then get ready for bed, change your clothes, take a warm shower, brush your teeth, hair, etc. Then relax.

    Dim lights and avoid “screens” if you can.  Electronic devices tend to activate your brain with light and make it harder to sleep.  Being in a low light environment for even just 30 minutes makes it much easier to become sleepy.  

    Create your own list of relaxing bedtime activities such as take a leisurely walk, stretch, do gentle yoga, meditate, do easy light household chores like watering plants, picking up, read easy-on-the-mind books, watch light TV that you don’t care if you start to get sleepy while watching, listen to relaxing music, etc.

    Designate your unwinding space to be as near to your bedroom as possible. When you feel sleepy, make is super easy for yourself to just roll into bed.  If you try to sleep before you feel a little sleepy, you are more likely to toss and turn. Designing your path to sleeping is FAR more powerful than trying to get yourself to go to bed at a specific time. 

  10. Watch what you eat in the 2 – 3 hours before bed. What you eat, and when you eat it can significantly affect your ability to fall sleep .Are you snacking on chocolate, soda, or other foods that may have caffeine in them? Are you eating sugary foods or foods with lots of chemicals in them before bed?  If you snack before bed, choose whole, unprocessed and starchy foods as much possible. Rice, sweet potatoes and homemade low salt popcorn are far better choices for a night time snack than candy, chocolate, ice cream or other snacks. Plan ahead to avoid snacking on junk foods before bed.
  11. Use earplugs. If you have a partner that snores, or if you snore, you might be waking yourself up during the night. Using earplugs changed my life and saved my marriage.  We both used to wake ourselves and each other up. With earplugs, we both sleep much more restfully. It takes a little getting used to, but the rewards are well worth it. I can even sleep better in hotels now. The earplugs themselves have become associated with sleep.  Just putting them in makes me start to feel even sleepier.  I recommend the soft foam type of earplugs. If they are too big, you can trim them to fit your ear better.
  12. Keep a pen and paper by your bedside. When you can’t sleep, often it’s because your mind is racing. Something about becoming sleepy seems to activate our creative mind and background problem solving ability.  Perhaps the brain has already begun it’s sorting and organizing processes I mentioned at the beginning of this article.  If you are like me, you may start getting ideas to solve challenges and problems at work, the minute you lie down and relax. Or perhaps you have concerns about how will handle or be prepared for a challenging event the next day.  Whatever is rolling around in your brain and won’t stop, it’s extremely helpful to have a pen a paper handy to capture those thoughts and remind yourself that if you sleep on it, all will be even clearer and you will have even better ideas in the morning.  Learning to trust that my mind’s background processing generates far better solutions that my conscious mind does is one of the most powerful habits I have cultivated in my journey to enhancing the quality of my sleep and significantly reducing insomnia.


I hope theses ideas will inspire and encourage you to take the time to design, agilize, and organize your daily habits and your bedroom to serve you in facilitating yourself to get a good night’s sleep.  

Sweet Dreams!





Top 3 Reasons Designing for Your Brain BEATS Self-Control as a Peak Performance Strategy

If you are like most people today, daily living is full of unpredictable events requiring you to constantly rethink, replan, and reprioritize.

One of the most commonly recommended strategies for getting things done today is to cultivate more “self-control.” The idea is that if you had more self-control you could get more done — and operate at “peak performance” level more often — because after all “normal” successful people have a lot of self-control, right?    

That’s the common working assumption in our culture.  But really…what is self-control?  I love the way NYU Professor and author of the excellent book Ungifted: Intelligence RedefinedScott Barry Kaufman  defines it.  He says (and I’m paraphrasing with an AgiliZen spin – not quoting exactly) self-control can be defined as:  ”the ability to get yourself to do things that

a) you aren’t really interested in doing and/or
b) you don’t see the value in doing or
c) do things according to schedule even if you are not actually “ready” to do them.   

I’m deeply convinced that there are serious flaws (and harmful consequences) in the idea that self-control is a superior way of functioning. Not only does self-control often not get you the high productivity, or peak performance, or life-changing results you want. It isn’t fun! Relying on self-control is NOT productive in the long term. It leaves you feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and worse, feeling bad about yourself. 


Using self-control as a primary productivity and
performance-enhancing strategy is only
DELAYING losing the game of living a life you love.

Self-control is not effective over the long-term because it doesn’t motivate or incentivize your brain to cooperate with you. After all, who among us is actually motivated to go through day after day just doing what you are told to do, doing things you dislike and /or don’t see the value of doing?  

I’m not going to get into all the reasons we as a culture bought into the illusion of self-control and so idealized it that we actually use it as the primary criteria for medically diagnosing people who don’t have a lot of it as “disordered” or not mentally healthy.

That is a whole other story.  But I will say this.

 One of the reasons we over-value self-control
is that even though we could get VERY similar results
by focusing on cultivating self-cooperation and self-leadership
it seems too “hard” and too “slow” to get results through cooperation.

Yes, cooperation and leadership are more challenging – IF you don’t have the skillset and mindset needed.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Once you learn the skillset and mindset, it not only gets easier, the whole process of life gets easier and a LOT MORE SATISFYING.  

Just like living in a democracy requires citizens to be educated and take more responsibility than living under autocratic rule does, it also takes a little more effort to learn how to self-cooperate. But the payoffs are worth it don’t you think? Especially if in spite of all your attempts to improve at self-control – it STILL isn’t working AND you are even more dissatisfied with yourself than ever.  

This brings us to Reason Number 1 why you need to be Designing for Your Brain instead of trying so hard to control it.

Reason Number 1 to Design for Your Brain  

Your brain IS DESIGNED to spend at least half to 3/4 of your days in auto-pilot – NOT in being controlled. 

You are not designed to be in conscious control of yourself or your brain as your primary mode of operation in life. At best, self-control aka “willpower” is an extremely limited resource. Relying on it to function is just ASKING for trouble. 

Understanding your auto-pilot — how it organically learns new habits and how it becomes ready to improvise effectively in the moment — that is where the real payoff is.  Your brain is designed to perform most of your daily functions in auto-pilot mode — relying on your internal scanning, monitoring and stimulus-response systems.  This means: 

  • Using habits and skills it has learned over time so that it can do things almost effortlessly.  
  • Responding to basic needs at the first signs of fatigue – rather than on a schedule.  
    For example, we are DESIGNED to eat when we are hungry NOT on a schedule and when we do eat in a need-responsive, self-cooperative way, artfully using and strengthening our amazing appetite monitoring system, we become healthier and it becomes much easier to maintain a healthy weight as well.

These automated activities can be thought of as low-cognitive-load activities. Low cognitive load, auto-pilot activities don’t require you to spend as much of your precious peak operating energy doing them because you have already spent time actively making them feel easy.  

Low cognitive load activities feel like they are so easy to do because you:

  • Have already learned and mastered them enough to perform them without a lot of conscious thought. 
  • Have already learned the prerequisite or keystonehabits and skills needed to perform them.  

    For example, you can easily boil water because you already learned how to operate the stove (or microwave), the water faucet, and the pot or tea kettle, etc. NOTE:  Whenever something feels really hard to do, usually there are some keystone habits or skills that aren’t fully developed yet. 

  • Understand their value and you want the result intensely enough that you don’t actively and vehemently resist them. 
  • Don’t debate with yourself whether or not you are “able” to do it — or whether or not it would be “worth” doing. The only debate you may have is whether or not NOW is the right time to do it.
  • Set the stage — Figured out a way to orchestrate your environment to make everything you need to do the activities relatively handy, easy to access, easy to put away, etc.  

Examples may include watching TV, playing your favorite games, using a remote control, making a cup of coffee, brushing your teeth, checking email, making a phone call, driving your car, etc. 

Think of operating on auto-pilot as being kind of like a game.  You start the day (game) having a full tank of gas that gets used up each day.  One of the conditions in this game that your fuel supply can only be fully refilled once a day while you sleep.  The way to win the game is to strategize ways to spread the use your fuel up without completely exhausting your supply.  Your engine (brain) operates when you don’t completely exhaust it and you get regular oil changes Think of oil changes as anything you do to keep yourself flexible, supple, encouraged when things get tough, and feeling satisfied with the progress you are making.  Optimizing your ability to get more miles per gallon is the way to win the bigger game. Miles per gallon are optimized by taking breaks (think of this like keeping air in your tires.) Another way to get more miles per gallon is to optimize your balance between high and low exertion activities.

Low cognitive load activities optimize your overall miles per gallon because they are like going downhill.  Engaging in “downhill” activities is how your brain NEEDS to spend at least half of your waking hours. 

Most people only get an average of about 4 (3 – 6) total hours per day of uphill functioning from their daily energy supply.  Much less if they are sleep deprived.  

Think of uphill activities as those requiring high levels of focus and conscious cognitive exertion such as:  decision-making, listening closely to what others are saying, reading non-fiction, writing, problem-solving, etc.  

Other words for uphill, high exertion activities include peak performance, high cognitive load tasks, and creative flow state energy. 

Designing for your brain is about learning how to design and teach yourself how to put as much as you can on auto-pilot (using habits, templates, priming, scripting,stage-setting  etc.) so that you have plenty of energy on reserve for tackling the more challenging activities of your life — including:

  • designing your day
  • decluttering projects, and 
  • designing complex organizing systems such as a filing system. 

Most people don’t realize that organizing and storage system design are complex, creative, high-cognitive-load activities that are comprised of several rather advanced skills including:  functional design skills, needs assessment, problem-solving, decision-making, project management, and habit cultivation skills all rolled into one activity.  

So why do we expect ourselves and others to “just do it” using self-control?  It’s kind of absurd when you think about it.  


Reason Number 2 to Design for Your Brain  

Your brain is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS trying to take care of you and doing the best it can with what it has to work with.  

Your brain is THE most loyal and forgiving friend you could ever hope for. In spite of all the things you have done to abuse it, it is actually ALWAYS looking out for your best interests, trying to:  

  • optimize functioning
  • satisfy needs
  • solve problems 
  • prevent problems
  • keep you safe
  • relieve intolerable discomfort pain
  • respond to perceived threats
  • avoid anything that it perceives as likely to overwhelm you
  • seek challenge and fully engaging experiences 

Contrary to popular opinion, the fact is that your so-called logical brain is designed to be an ALLY and to be of SERVICE to your whole brain – not to be in charge and tell you what to do. Your logical brain is meant to work in close cooperation with the rest of your brain by designing meaningful agile goals that serve the whole you…not just what you “think” you “should” do or want.  

But there is a catch.  

You must commit to giving your brain what it requires,
stop being so controlling, and
cooperate with it instead. 

When you design for your whole brain it means you use your logical brain to consider all of your needs and integrate them into the way you design your days, your habits, your expectations, plans and goals, your relationships, your career and your environments to serve your overall optimal functioning in both the short and long term.  

Bottom Line:  

Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.  

When you LEARN a better way you WILL USE IT.  

Investing the time to teach yourself how to design habits that serve both your optimal daily AND your long-term functioning WILL PAY superior dividends. Designing for your brain will yield a much greater return on investment than self-control can even dream of.



Reason Number 3 to Design for Your Brain  

Designing for your brain IS a game you can WIN. 

Designing for your brain is a game where winning means getting your daily life activities to support the achievement of your long term goals — like health, wealth, love, and overall well-being.  It is all about playing to win the bigger game - the game of life.  

Designing for your brain is the ultimate act of being of service to the people in your life as well.  In optimizing your own functioning, you become much more able to effectively be of service to supporting others to become their best selves.  

Designing for your brain is what you do if you truly want to live a meaningful and purpose-centered life. Self-control is not the key to fulfillment – it’s the key to being “controllable” and to being willing to spend your life being controlled – doing things you don’t really care about that have little meaning to you.

When you design for your brain, you take the time to figure out what your brain really needs to perform daily functions – even those you think you hate doing.

When you take the time to figure out how to make your brain happy

AND Design for it by connecting everything you do to
both immediate value AND long term gain —  

the results are FAR superior to self-control.  

Designing for your brain IS the ultimate power tool in agilizing your life.  Are you ready to play to win?  

Stay tuned.  More AgiliZen resources for Designing for your Brain and living the agile, productive, and meaning full life are coming!

In the meantime, explore these AgiliZen resources.

ARTICLESSee the Best of Articles List  Here’s a few….

VIDEOS – Visit the AgiliZen You Tube Channel  

BOOKS – Visit the AgiliZen Bookstore




Introduction to Agile Life Design and Decision-Making

Agile Life Design is a decision-making process that involves thoughtfully assessing needs, wants, values and resources and then figuring out creative options and/or solutions that

  • Fulfill multiple needs (functional, emotional, cognitive, users and stakeholders, etc.) 
  • Resolve conflicting needs, values and wants
  • Provide the most value or impact using the fewest resources (time, money, energy, etc)
  • Anticipate and think through the full lifecycle of the decision to address immediate needs and take future needs into consideration as well.  

Agile design decisions anticipate how needs may change in the future and if needed, build in as much flexibility, versatility, adaptability, scalability, value and return on investment as the available resources will allow while minimizing the potential of severe loss or regret. Ideally, even the end of the solution’s useful life will be facilitated by designing ease of recycling, repurposing and / or disposing into the solution.  

Agile design can be applied to every area of life including: designing goals, organizing solutions, time management systems, to do lists, commitments, relationships, career decisions, even to what to study in college.  How you design your home, use of money, how you eat, cook meals, exercise, read, and how you transitions from one, task, meeting, or activity to another — everything you do, purchase, learn, create or decide can be design with agility in mind.  

The fact is that we are always designing, i.e., making decisions that will affect our future enjoyment of life. But how many of us are purposefully and realistically considering how today’s choices will affect our future flexibility or life satisfaction? How many of us are designing the possibility that we may be wrong into the decision rather that avoiding making a decision because “we might be wrong”?

Instead of designing with the possibility of being wrong in mind, we tend to either procrastinate in hopes that someday we can be certain that our decision will have a good or expected outcome, or we may make decisions based on a sense of certainty that we are right and the future will turn out as we expect it to, and then find ourselves full of regret or suffering a devastating loss that sets us up to avoid making such decisions in the future. The truth is that that you can’t EVER be 100% certain of the future.  The smartest approach I have found is to accept that completely and design agile life decisions and goals that accept, assess and minimize risk.  

Agile Life Design is about knowing the future will change us and will change our lives — our needs, values, situation, capabilities and resources — in ways we cannot predict today.  Instead of preparing for every possible outcome, or becoming attached to one or two goals such as assuming you will get married, or have a family, or still like your chosen career, or will retire in the future, with an Agile Life Design mindset, you focus on making decisions that are optimized for the near future, yet also empower you to be ready to adapt as needed in the event that you made a mistake, or change your mind, or need to course correct for any reason.

Agile Life Design decisions build flexibility and adaptability into today’s decisions and empower you to rise to the occasion and improvise or redesign if the worst case or completely unexpected events should occur.  

Agile Life Design uses a variety of time boxes and planning horizons to shape and optimize design decisions:

  • Immediate – now to 1 month ish
  • Short term – 1 to 3  and 3 – 6 month
  • Long term – 6 months to 1 year
  • Long range – 1 year and beyond 
Each time box carries with it an increasingly higher risk that whatever you plan for, anticipate or decide, not only will change, it is likely to change in ways that are completely unforseeable and unexpected today. Agile decisions take risks into account, and either mitigate the risks, or accept the fact you may need to make a course correction and completely rethink, modify or abandon the decision, commitment, solution, system, or product you design today. 

The overall stages of the agile design and decision-making process are the same for all types of design decisions. It’s like walking, the basics are universal, yet there are many variations. The difference is in how quickly, creatively, and thoughtfully you go through each stage. When I started learning agile systems design and decision-making concepts, I was struck by how easy it was to “over-design” and get caught up in the details before I even knew if the solution was actually viable or sustainable.  It is very easy to get stuck in the information gathering and planning stages of design, or in the creative or visual aspects of implementing a design.

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AgiliZen in Action: How We Converted our Front Yard from Dreaded Weekly Lawn Chore to Daily Garden Delight

New Video - AgiliZen Lawn & Garden Work


Wanna see how we transformed our front lawn from a time, resource and energy drain to a low maintenance, agile, perennial garden where we love to hang out with friends and neighbors?   Check out the video below!  Not only is our former lawn now an extension of our home and living space, we’ll also get fresh vegetables including lettuce, tomatoes, snap peas, and herbs.

We start renovating the front of our home after we bought it in 2001.  My very first gardening project was to install window boxes. A few years ago we lost our big oak tree and suddenly had a VERY sunny yard.  So we planted a tree (prairie fire crab apple) and then started replacing most of our lawn with garden.

This year we are initiating phase 1 of building a small patio to extend our tiny front porch.  In the video below, I show you how I’ve applied AgiliZen concepts like starting small, quick and simple to iteratively design a patio that will meet our needs AND be adaptable for the future.

We set up this “experimental prototype” patio in just a few hours using chairs, pavers and slate stepping stones we already had on hand.  This way we get to “live with it” and learn before we invest in a permanent patio. 


Here’s what our front yard looked like in 2002. 


Here’s how the front yard with lawn converted to garden looked last April. 


Here’s the front yard garden – May 4 2013



Here’s the video. 


I hope more more people will be inspired to switch over from  lawns to growing at least some of their own healthy fresh foods. Being able to grow your own food is a basic human right. You shouldn’t have to make a lot of money or depend on grocery stores to be able to eat nutritious whole foods.  

What do you think?  
Do you garden?  
Would you consider converting your lawn into a garden?  
Why or why not? 
Would love to hear from you!

Asking for what you need without over-explaining.

How do you get people to understand ADHD and how it affects your needs?

I get asked this question a lot. Here’s a few ideas to help you agilize advocating for yourself in a gracious, undemanding, yet confident way.

After being diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 48, I went through a phase of trying to get people to understand what ADHD is and sharing with them how it explained so much of my whole life story. People’s responses ranged from

  • “ADHD isn’t real” to 
  • “ADHD is just an excuse – it’s BS.” to 
  • “You don’t have ADHD.  How could you?  You’ve accomplished so much.” to
  •  ”I could have told you that. My kid has it and I’ve always figured you might have it.” to 
  • “I have it too! No wonder we always got along so well” 

The reactions were quite mixed. But one thing became clear very quickly. Most people did not want to hear what I had learned about ADHD.  The bottom line is this:

Most people don’t want to understand ADHD.  And only a few really want to understand YOU in depth.  Most people only want to know precisely what you want or need from them.  


They want you to

    • get to the point
    • ask for what you need
    • let them say yes or no, and then 
    • accept their answer without trying to persuade them to change their mind. 

It became clear rather quickly that if I wanted people to listen to me, I had to get to the point.  People want you to clearly communicate what you NEED in specific terms rather than to try to get them to understand ADHD.  They don’t care about ADHD, they care about you and their relationship with you (hopefully.)

Even a lot of doctors simply don’t get ADHD and even they don’t want to take the time to understand your life and how it affects you.  Most people don’t want the details about your conditions, illnesses or even the reasons why you are asking them.  Better to not explain and only share details and reasons if  they ask.  

Example 1 – Being Late

If you are going to be late, or have to reschedule something, most of the time, people just want you to give them as much notice as you can and say something like:

“I’m going to be 20 minutes late.”  

and then ask them a relevant question like:

“Can you wait?”  or “Would you rather reschedule?”   

If they really want to know why, they will ask you. Most of the time, people just say “Thanks for letting me know.”   

Generally, the less you explain, the more respect and appreciation you get.  

Example 2 – Deadline Extension

“I need an extension on the deadline for ______.   Can you give me ___ days or weeks?”  

Pause and let them think about it and respond before you share any more details. Do whatever it takes to remain silent and let them think — even if you have to count to 100. 

They might just say “No problem.”  and you are done.  I was stunned when I first started practicing this that 90% of the time people have no problem with you asking for more time.  It’s the explanations (or excuses) that drive them crazy.  

Explaining Invites Judgement and Debate

When you explain it feels to people like you are asking them to approve of your reasons and / or needs. They then caught up in the details of your life and actually distracted from making a decision about whether or not they can accommodate you (e.g. give you more time, or reschedule, etc.)

Giving an explanation or justification is like inviting people to debate the validity of your needs with you. But in reality, most people in your life are not entitled to “approve” of your needs.  Your only obligation is to ASK respectfully for what you need or want – not to get their approval of the fact that you have a need or the reason why you have the need. Once you make a request, they are entitled to decide whether or not they will accommodate your need.

If they actually do feel like they are entitled to approve of your reason, wait for them to come right out and say so. But usually when people ask why, they are just being curious. In that case, give as vague an answer as you can.  Like -”something came up” or “I have a conflict.”   Make them work for details – there are very few people in life you “owe” details to. And if they are going to use your reasons to “judge” you – don’t give them ammunition. 

Once they inform you of their decision, remember that they don’t “owe” you an explanation either.  Only in a few cases, are you entitled to debate.  Generally, you are obliged to ACCEPT their answer or ASK to negotiate.     

RULE OF THUMB:  If you don’t want to get into a debate about your needs with people, ask for what you need, and then WAIT for an answer.  

Assume you are entitled to ask for what you need  – you don’t have explain why you need it.  Whether or not you have ADHD doesn’t really matter.  A need is a need – regardless of why you need it.  

But remember, whenever you ask, prepare yourself to hear either YES or NO – Don’t assume they’ll say no, but if they do, you may ask why once, but be ready to accept no for an answer or to negotiate an alternative that works for both of you.  

Just like you are entitled to ask, they are entitled to say no to your requests. 

Why do we explain?

Most of the time, we explain because we intend /  think / hope the person will be:

  • more “understanding” of us (which is another way of saying we want their “approval” or “acceptance”)
  • more likely to say “yes”
  • less annoyed by our inconveniencing them (which implies YOU have already a) judged yourself as being annoying or b) that your job in life is to avoid ever inconveniencing other people.)

But that is not usually the result we get.  By definition, if we are explaining to “be understood” we are assuming they either won’t, or don’t, understand.  And that assumption can feel annoying to people.  Most of us can’t articulate why we get annoyed when people over-explain, but in my experience, it gets down to that in our insecurity, we somehow project to people that we don’t trust them to be generous, or accepting or understanding.  We act as though we expect people to judge us and so we explain.  In the very act of explaining, we make it almost impossible for them NOT to judge us.  

Explaining puts them in the position of “judging” your needs.  It also gives the impression that you don’t trust the person to accommodate your request just because they are considerate.  

Explaining Often Backfires – The Unintended Consequences

When you explain, it’s as if you are already sure the person will say no and are trying to make it hard for them to say no. They feel the pressure and feel manipulated. And they don’t like it.  Our intention may be to provide information they need to make an informed choice, but here’s the thing. Intentions have little (or nothing) to do with the results of our actions and behaviors.  It’s the unintended consequences that come back and kick us in the butt.  

Just because we don’t intend to be late, doesn’t mean we aren’t late, right?  Same here. We don’t intend to annoy people with our explanations, but that is what they feel. Explaining before you make a request tends to result in people regarding you as either weak, insecure and needing their approval, or as being emotionally manipulative.  It opens the door and invites them to judge you.

Is that what you really want?  If not, ask for what you need and be ready for either a yes or no answer. If they say no, depending on the situation, you can:

  • accept it and suggest an alternative solution.
  • ask them why
  • ask them to suggest a compromise or alternative option
  • thank them for their consideration. 
  • consider opening up a negotiation discussion
  • if their refusal is not acceptable to you, you might consider letting them know the impact of their refusal on your relationship. But be careful about this. Don’t make threats you aren’t fully prepared to carry out.  If their lack of accommodation is a dealbreaker, they need to know that.   

What about if I need an unusual accommodation for ADHD?

When asking for accommodations, find ways to ask that don’t position you as “disabled” but instead as having unique needs.

For example:

Instead of saying  ”I have ADHD so that means I need _______ .”

It’s more effective to say things like:  

“When I’m super-focused on getting something done, I work best when I get into a flow state and lose track of time. To get the best work from me, could we work it out so that I have a flexible start and end time to accommodate my creative process?  I do my very best work that way and you won’t be disappointed in the quality.”  


NOTE:  If timing is more critical than quality, then it’s up to you to rethink your approach.  Maybe start earlier than you normally would, or set a timer.  Either way you need to agilize a way to do what you can in the time you have and manage expectations – theirs, and most of all, your own.  Sometimes, you need to accept that you will only have time to do your “relative best” – not your VERY BEST. 

Almost every boss or client I ever asked in this way said SURE.  I want your best work, if that’s what it takes, go for it.

Another example:

  ”I do better when you put requests in writing, it gives me time to think before I say yes..I don’t want to overcommit and disappoint you, could you help me out by putting your request in an email?”  

Again, the reaction is usually “No Problem.”  In fact, they often say, “Great Idea, that will help me be clearer about what I really want, too.”

Strategies like this make it hard to argue with your request – they stick to the real point, and gain you more respect.  People admire when you factually and clearly just ask for what you need without explaining too much why you need it. 

How might you experiment with this agile way of asking for accommodations to your unique needs?   

Agile Time Management Strategies – Free Download on Slideshare

I’m learning and experimenting with using SlideShare!  Here’s my first contribution.

What’s covered?

  • 2 ways Agile Time Management strategies differ from conventional time management strategies.
  • Top 5 ways we unintentionally set ourselves up for Time Management Troubles
  • 5 Keystone Time Management Habits 

Get the Downloadable PDF version at: 


How to Cultivate the Potential Gifts and Strengths of Emotional Intensity, ADHD, Creative Intensity and other Traits of Neurodiversity

Emotional “intensity” is one of the biological traits that contribute significantly to neurodiversity, cognitive diversity, inner conflict, stress and misunderstandings in relationships. It is also a highly significant ingredient in chronic stress, chronic disorganization, chronic illness and feelings of overwhelm. 

In the article, “Intensity of Emotion Tied to Perception and Thinking” by Daniel Goleman, Michigan State University psychologist Robert Emmons explains that

“emotionally intense people seek variety, novelty, complexity. They have more varied goals in life, know more people in more different situations, and because they are doing so many different things, feel more conflict in their lives.”

”These conflicts can be a source of stress for the emotionally intense, and may explain why they report getting more minor illnesses, like colds and flus, than do less emotional people,” said Dr. Emmons.

“The new data are showing that what are considered discrete psychological disorders may, in fact, be simply the extremes of a continuum of normality.”

Want to learn more about Emotional Intensity?

The ADD Myth: How to Cultivate the Unique Gifts of Intense PersonalitiesBOOK REVIEW:  The book The ADD Myth: How to Cultivate the Unique Gifts of Intense Personalities by Martha Burge, an ADHD coach with a BA in Psychology, is very well-written and makes what could be difficult concepts much easier to understand.

Emotional intensity is one of five intensities (based on psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski’s groundbreaking theories of adult development) explained by Burge using the SPICE acronym.  The five intensities are:

  • Sensory
  • Psychomotor [energy]
  • Intellectual
  • Creative
  • Emotional  

Differences in these intensities contribute significantly to personality diversity and each has it’s own set of challenges and strengths.  

I love her use of the “mental map” metaphor to help us understand how our mind-body-emotions filter our perceptions of the world and shape our identities.  The book is well organized and supports ease of browsing as well as in-depth reading (though in my Kindle version there aren’t many visuals.)  

The practical ideas she provides for both reducing and coping with the stress that may accompany these traits include many that I have implemented in my own life to reduce stress and heal PTSD. For example:

  • Plan recuperation time following busy events. [I build in at least 2 transition days with minimal or no appointments etc. before and after a vacation or other major event.]
  • Get rid of clothes that aren’t comfortable.  [I remove all labels from clothing and only wear smooth fabrics that don't irritate my sensitive skin.]
  • Use sound-blocking headphones when in loud places like an airplane or subway. [I carry earplugs with me everywhere I go and sleep with them as well.]

She also provides highly practical suggestions for harnessing and cultivating the strengths of our intensities so that we can experience the potential advantages that are enabled by intensities.  For example:

“The intense brain has to be busy. Boredom is the ultimate enemy. This is impossible to explain to a nonintense person. Boredom is torture. When bored, even some pretty stupid things start to look like good ideas.”

Instead of “boredom” I would call this insufficient engagement, stagnation, or lack of change. To me boredom is when I can’t think of something to do – which almost never happens to me.  But I do experience a kind of physical pain or discomfort when things stay the same for too long or don’t require me to engage fully because they are too repetitive, easy, or just too passive or not multi-sensory. For example, I can feel this even when reading an interesting book.  If I don’t engage my body while reading, my attention will wander and it can feel physically painful.  So I take notes, often just to help me pay attention, the note-taking is for me like having a conversation with the author, it’s not always so that I can refer to the notes later.  In general I find that full engagement is more of the issue than whether or not I’m interested.   I believe what I think of as full engagement is what Ms. Burge is describing when she discusses practices for becoming “fully present” such as contemplation, mindfulness and immersion. 

I actually rarely feel bored, but I often feel that “torture-like” feeling that comes from being only partially engaged, quiet, slow or inactive on a daily basis.  Instead of feeling tortured and helpless and reacting in ways I regret later, I have designed productive ways to respond to that feeling. I have learned how to enhance my own sensory engagement using my environment to influence what I pay attention to and to avoid overloading my senses.  For example, I find that I can create the “freshness” I need by changing simple things like:

  • decluttering a drawer
  • changing the colors of something
  • painting a wall 
  • rearranging furniture or display items 
  • swapping out the dishes I use daily (I have a red and a white set that I can alternate)
  • deep cleaning
  • gardening

Sometimes, just changing the color pens I’m using or what’s hanging on the wall is enough to satisfy this need.  What I’ve found is that there are lots of ways to incorporate the inspiration that comes with variety and novelty without being drastic or as disruptive as say, buying all new furniture – just rearranging it is usually enough.

It’s unfortunate that she named the book “The ADD Myth”  because the subtitle is a much more accurate description of the book’s content.  Most of the book is actually a guide to living with the five SPICE intensities.  The “The ADD Myth” title makes it seem like the whole book will be about debunking the diagnosis of ADHD when in fact it’s mainly the first chapter.  

The ADHD chapter is highly controversial and thought provoking and I completely concur with the foreword by Dr. Allen who was one of the writers of the criteria in the current DSM. The ADHD section could have made a great appendix rather than the lead story.  Overall the book is constructive, optimistic, inspiring AND practical.  I highly recommend it for anyone is an intense person or lives with one. 



ARTICLE: Daniel Goleman,  Intensity of Emotion Tied to Perception and Thinking

BOOK: Martha Burge, The ADD Myth: How to Cultivate the Unique Gifts of Intense Personalities“ 

Other Books I recommend for Cultivating Emotional Intelligence


The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights
The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freein… 
by Christopher K. Germer PhD 
Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up a… 
by Kristin Neff 
The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New I… 
by Daniel Goleman 
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who Yo… 
by Brene Brown 
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulne… 
by Brene Brown 
Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Ed… 
by Daniel Goleman 
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha Men, Women, and Worthiness: The Experience of Shame and the Power of Being Enough Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life Wit… 
by Tara Brach 
Men, Women, and Worthiness: The Experience … 
by Brene Brown PhD LMSW 
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration 
by Sal Mendaglio 


INDEX OF MY “BEST OF” Articles here

Rethinking SMART Goals – Agile Goal Setting vs. Conventional Goals

The SMART Goal Setting acronym has been around a long time.  I first learned it in 1981 when I was in graduate school studying adult learning psychology. As part of the AgiliZen framework, I’m proposing an updated more sustainable way of thinking about SMART goals that fits the more improvisational lifestyle most of us creative, growth-oriented people need.

Achieving goals doesn’t have to feel like pressure, overwhelm and stress.  

Rethinking SMART Goals - SMART Agile Goal Setting vs. Conventional Goals  - Take the Taste Test and see which you Prefer. What would your life be like if you insisted that your goals serve you in BOTH getting things done AND enjoying life every day? 

Enjoying life should not be the  “prize you earn” for accomplishment. Enjoying life in all it’s messy unpredictability is what gives you the drive to wake up every day, make meaning out of your messes, and go for what you want out of life even when progress is slow or on a temporary hiatus.

While deeply thinking about goals through the Agile lens, and  how goals should serve us, I came up with this update for the SMART goals acronym. The agilized version of SMART goals are designed to do more than motivate us to achieve – they inspire us to learn as we go, CAPTIVATE our attention and challenge us but also help us feel confident.  Goals and expectations play such a huge role in shaping our performance.  Too often the way we frame our goals to ourselves actually triggers procrastination instead of action.  Agile goals inspire action and magnetize us to keep going even when the road gets rocky.  I hope you find this alternative spin on setting goals both intriguing and useful. 

S  Small, specific and sustainable

Agile goals fit your lifestyle and are small enough to integrate into your life without overwhelming you or your resources. They hit the sweet spot of feeling challenging and doable.  They incorporate cultivating “readiness” to act, and plan for natural cycles of fluctuating motivation so procrastination is significantly reduced.

M  Meaningful and memorable

Agile goals are designed to connect small seemingly insignificant actions to meaningful, big picture emergent outcome goals such as “Improve my health” or “make more money.”   In this way, even the most trivial of daily actions and habits become easier to act on.  Agile goals connect tiny actions to clear significant outcomes.  Agile goals are stated briefly and simple enough to remember. They are also specific enough that you can easily to set up reminders if needed.

A  Aims for the agile zone

The agile zone is about establishing flexible expectations and standards that embrace the normal fluctuations of life. The agile zone is about shooting for ideals but also acknowledging the value of the full spectrum of good enough.  Many things are worth doing imperfectly. While you are learning something new, your attempts may be clumsy, but they are still worthy of acknowledgement. Agile zone goals support optimal functioning because they encourage you to keep trying even when you aren’t getting it right yet.  Agile standards are flexible.  Goals that aim for the agile zone are attractive and motivating because they allow for the inevitable setbacks, mistakes and even failure.  Instead of agonizing, setbacks become fuel for learning, creative iteration, and personal growth.  Instead of trying to make things turn out a certain way, we get to wonder how our goals and outcome will look when we achieve them.

R   Relevant to emergent outcome goals and to satisfying multiple needs simultaneously (e.g. sensory, emotional, mental, creative, practical and functional needs)

Agile goals become increasingly magnetic to us when they  multiple needs simultaneously with one activity. Designing truly agile goals involves continuously learning about yourself and seeking integration and simplification to more needs while actually doing less.  Agile goals resolve conflicts between competing needs such as need for quality nutritional food on a low budget without completely sacrificing one for the other.  Agile goals are designed to make it clear how long term goals are being met at the same time our  human needs for short-term gratification (enjoying your life now) are also being satisfied.

T   Tweakable

Agile goals are easy to modify as needs change. Agile goals are open-ended enough to empower you to meet them in a number of ways.  Rather than defining success in a narrow way, they offer targets that guide you in designing and improvising your way to achieving the intentions of your goals. Agile goals allow you to easily tweak them on the fly, as needed, when available resources change (such as time, attention, energy and money).

Tweakable agile goals not only allow, they EXPECT you to easily adapt any part of the process or outcome to meet the current conditions.  The way the goal is stated allows you many possible ways to satisfy the real needs while also continuously improving or modifying the process, tools, timing, ingredients, etc to make the solution more interesting, satisfying and sustainable.    


 AgiliZen SMART Goals Compared to Conventional Goals

Below is an example of an emergent outcome goal.  It is more long term and there is no “deadline”.  It can only be achieved by integrating small daily habits that add up to achieving the outcome. 

Learn to enjoy the process of cooking highly nutritious whole foods by designing small changes into the way I cook so that cooking feels easy, creative and spontaneous.


Conventional Goals for achieving this outcome might look like this:

  • I will cook my own meals at least 3 times a week to save money on eating in restaurants and to eat healthier.  
  • I will weigh, measure and write down everything I eat.
  • I will plan my meals for the week and make a detailed shopping list to ensure I have all the ingredients I need to make each meal.


The Agile version of SMART goals connect my intention to teach myself to like cooking integrate multiple needs:  my emotional needs for challenge, learning, mastery development, creativity and sensory pleasure and also my functional needs for simplifying and not taking any more time to eat healthier than fast food does.  For example: 

  • I will discover simple, versatile tools to cook with and only keep the ones that meet multiple needs: my sensory needs for pleasing color, look and feel, AND my functional needs:  easy to use, clean, store in my small kitchen with limited storage. (e.g. a great multi-purpose knife that fits my hand, feels good when using it, fits my color scheme, and makes it kinda fun to build my mastery of knife skills and experiment with new ways to cut up vegetables, etc.)
  • I will learn about and experiment with one or 2 new flavors or fresh ingredients each month or so I can learn more about whole foods and seasonings that make eating and cooking more of a creative adventure I look forward to rather than a chore I resist.
  • I will design or discover 2 – 3  go to “template” recipes for dinner that include only 3 – 5 healthy ingredients  - are easy to remember, easy to adapt to whatever ingredients I have on hand, and easy to prepare even when I get home tired at night. 
  • I will figure out a core set of healthy ingredients to keep stocked in my pantry, fridge and freezer so that I can improvise convenient healthy meals anytime.



Can you feel the difference between the agile goals and the conventional goals?

Which kind of goals are more likely to captivate your interest and inspire you into action?

If you were born to agilize, chances are the conventional approach SMART goals will not inspire you to easily achieve long-term success. You might make a change for a couple weeks then find yourself inexplicably just stopping.  Not achieving your goal feels bad enough, but it is not a benign fleeting kind of pain.  The dark side of repeatedly using goal setting strategies that don’t fit you is that the stress actively and cumulatively does HARM to your self-image and to your emotional, mental and physical well-being.

The stress of repeatedly feeling like a failure actually harms your overall health and well-being so that is progressively becomes HARDER to achieve the outcome goals you deeply desire.   

Repeated lack of success has many undesirable side effects and consequences, such as making you feel inadequate, defective or like a failure.  It can lead to anxiety, depression, and set you up for chronic feelings of overwhelmchronic disorganization, clutterchronic procrastination and resisting your own goals.  

The agile way of goal setting accepts you as you are.    Rather than relying on self-control, encourages self-understanding and self-leadership to design goals in a way that nurtures your spirit and organically inspires you to achieve beyond what you can even imagine right now.   Using control tactics is not “required” to inspire yourself to do things that are good for you – there are other ways!   

When it comes to meeting human needs, there is always an alternative way to get things done that doesn’t require strong self-control.  The AgiliZen way considers control as an option best reserved for machines and should be used sparingly with human beings.

Outliers who are growth-oriented, creative, non-linear, intuitive thinkers and who love to learn and explore more than the average person does, need goals that are designed to be adaptable, flexible and agile.  As you learn, grow and evolve, your needs, interests, and resources change more frequently than the average person’s.

Agile goals nurture, respect and accommodate the intensity of your drive to learn and grow.  Agile goals are designed to easily change as you learn – without the drama of being made to feel like you failed to achieve or abandoned yet another goal.  

The greatest wisdom and achievements are made possible by the “stepping stones” of  those goals you “tried on” and let go of and the course corrections you made along the way as you learned.  The agile S.M.A.R.T goal setting process works with your natural adaptability and cultivates it into a strength.  

Handling Emotional Overwhelm the AgiliZen Way – ADHD Support Talk Radio

Handling Emotional Overwhelm the Agile way on ADHD Support - Ariane Benefit, Life Coach NJ, NYC I appeared on ADHD Support Talk Radio,  Feb. 7, 2013 discussing the agile way of dealing with and preventing emotional overwhelm.  


  • The role of emotions in cultivating performance and productivity
  • Cultivating emotional resilience and intelligence is a high impact productivity strategy for everyone and particularly for creatives, HSP (Highly Sensitive People), ADHD, Gifted Adults, and other neurodiverse individuals. 
  • How your personal metaphors affect your emotional life and how you handle conflict.
  • Common metaphors that affect what you perceive is normal, acceptable, or disordered.  
  • The car and plane metaphors for different personality and productivity styles. 
  • Why some people are natural prioritizers and some are natural agilizers.
  • Why having special talents makes a lot of things in life easier and also makes a lot of things harder. 
  • Comparing self-control and need-responsive as diverse styles – the agile way values both styles
  • Recognizing the biases that affect our ability to accept ourselves, value our differences with each other, and ultimately make it more difficult to cultivate emotional resilience
  • The potential value of conflict (opposites attract)
  • Alternatives to the “Time is Money” metaphor that leads to overwhelm and high stress
  • The concepts of “relative best” and “template automation” as flexible, agile optimization strategies 
  • How we learn to become “control freaks” even though it’s not our innate nature
  • The agile way of using your calendar
  • How we can easily strengthen multiple abilities such as: mindsight, mindfulness, and ability to pay attention and mediate inner conflict using just one or two of the activities you are already doing.  
The AgiliZen 10 Mantras for cultivating self-acceptance, emotional resilience and keystone habits that exponentially enhance both productivity and quality of life.
Learn more about the AgiliZen framework for Cultivating Performance and Productivity holistically here.  



Listen to internet radio with ADHD Support Talk on Blog Talk Radio

Resisting the War on Resistance. BOOK REVIEW of “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles”

I don’t usually write about what I disagree with, but I think it’s time for me to express my opposition to cultural metaphors and myths that feed the growing epidemic of stress, anxiety, powerlessness, and feelings of inadequacy that so many people are experiencing today.

What better place to start resisting than with a best-selling book that has 309 5-star reviews and declares something as untrue as  ”Resistance is Evil?” 

war of-art-steven-pressfield

If resistance is characterized as evil…no wonder our culture destroys the confidence and self-respect of anyone who dares to be different, express dissenting ideas, or disagree with dominant values.  

Today, I’ve decided to resist openly and honestly.  I’m not going to be “nice” or “quiet” just to not make waves.  Our cultural obsession with the idea that self-control and battling one’s inner resistance is the only way to “break through” procrastination or creative blocks must be challenged.  

My intention is not to simply criticize by attacking his ideas I hope to inspire deeper thinking on the claim that “resistance is evil” and encourage people to ask questions of their own before accepting the ideas as truth.  So along with my resistance, I offer an alternative.

I believe resistance is more effective when served constructively.  It’s not enough to point out what isn’t fully accurate. Thoughtful resistance that has any hope of being well-received by the force being resisted needs to offer a creative and sustainable alternative as well.

Here’s my attempt at that.  Hope you find it helpful.


The content of the book “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” makes it abundantly clear that the author did little to actively resist or challenge his own ideas while writing it. From the first page, Steven Pressfield makes one outrageous and inaccurate claim after another.  

Was he trying to shock people?  If shock was the intention, I suppose I could understand it.  But from the tone of the whole book, it seemed to me he really believes what he is saying and truly cannot see an alternative way to look at inner resistance.

So, if he reads this, I hope he takes it in the spirit offered and is willing to consider that a metaphor other than WAR might apply to the inner conflict he and so many others experience when trying to write or create art of any kind. 


— “Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction.” 

— “Resistance is evil.” 

— “Resistance is the enemy within.”

These quotes are so utterly and completely misguided, I can hardly believe this book got published. Unfortunately they are the premises upon which the entire book is written.


Here are several other ways to look at resistance. And yes, you can quote me.  To my knowledge I have not read or heard anyone else say these exact quotes. 

— Resistance IS NOT inherently evil. Resistance is VALUABLE.  Resistance is our GIFT.  It’s the source of our Free will. Without resistance we would all be obedient little robots. 

— Resistance is a vital component of your ability to think for yourself.   Inner resistance is what enables you to challenge YOUR OWN thoughts and ideas and not believe every thought you think.

— Inner Resistance makes courage possible. Without it, you would not be able to feel fear and act anyway.

— Resistance helps prevent you from automatically believing everything you hear or see. 

— Resistance prevents you from automatically following every order or command you are given. Even the ones you give yourself. 

— Resistance is often trying to PROTECT and defend your rights, not HURT you. 

— Resistance is REQUIRED to develop your ability to think both creatively and critically. 

— Inner Resistance may seem evil, but in fact, is often coming from our inner wisdom trying to get our attention nonverbally to let us know that we are not yet ready to do the thing we are intending to do.  It has the potential to give us useful information if we listen and not immediately jump into war with it. It is often NOT our “enemy within.” 



When we listen more deeply, resistance (even when it comes to writing or any other creative task we want to perform) can be felt and heard as the voice of our inner wisdom challenging and encouraging us to:

  1. Become less rigid in our idea of what we think we have to do to become a good writer or whatever you are trying to get yourself to do. Creative work is challenging and can be an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and become more flexible and agile in all aspect of our lives.
  2. Use our inner creativity to DESIGN ways to inspire ourselves to write and to increase the quality of our ideas.
  3. Try listening to our inner wisdom instead of assuming our logical self is always right. The part of our brain that sets goals and tries to “tell” us what to do is not always right. Our inner controlling self is not inherently superior to our emotional and physical selves.

Writing is a process. If Steven Pressfield wrote this book by forcing himself to sit down and start writing at 9 am every day – well, no wonder it is so biased, oversimplistic and promotes strategies that not only may not be helpful, they could be downright oppressive to the creative soul.   

Good writing requires doing much more than sitting down at a computer at 9 am every day. Good writing requires a healthy combination of: 

  • Nurturing your ideas 
    • Thinking and experimenting and trying out your ideas.  Do they hold up when you put them into practice?  
  • Challenging your ideas
    • Reading and listening to other people’s ideas on the same topic. Particularly reading ideas that are contrary to your own. 
    • Listening to “resistance” to your ideas. 
    • Actively considering the possibility that ideas that are completely opposite of yours might have some seeds of validity that could ENRICH your point of view.

Resistance challenges us to think deeper, and use our reasoning and discerning skills before we accept other people’s ideas and adopt their suggestions. Resistance enables us to filter out ideas that either aren’t true or simply don’t fit us. Without resistance, we become easy targets for any claim that simply “feels right” or “sounds good.”  Willingness to resist and get past our comfort zone empowers us to challenge outdated cultural myths and metaphors no matter how intuitively right they seem.

Most Inner Resistance is worth listening to. If you listen and respond respectfully it often melts and may even evolve into an ally.  It may give you information that can greatly improve your strategies. Resistance is uncomfortable, but war is not usually the most effective response to resistance.  In fact, the most honest feedback and resistance often comes from the people who are closest to us and love us the MOST.  If they didn’t care, why would they bother to risk giving us their honest feedback?  

The same is true of our inner resistance.  If you look and listen deeper, your inner resistance could be your best friend.  It could be the most honest source of feedback you have to challenge you to question your assumptions, redesign your strategies, or rethink your own ideas.  What if you could not only SUCCEED but ALSO enjoy the creative process in all its mysteries and unpredictability?  What if you could nurture it and NOT have to FORCE or BATTLE or CONQUER yourself at every turn?  

What if your resistance holds the keys to creative bliss and you can’t get there because you are too busy fighting it?

The more you fight resistance, the more it goes underground and becomes even stronger.

— Resistance is what fueled the American Revolution. If England had LISTENED and allowed us to have a voice in our own taxation, we might still be part of England. 

— Resistance is how we respond to disrespect and tyranny – even when we are disrespecting ourselves.

— Resistance is how we respond to abuse – and trying to force ourselves to do things can become a form of self-abuse.

Clearly, Steven Pressfield’s military background not only taught him to devalue his inner resistance, it seems to have weakened his ability to see life with any metaphor other than war.  It seems to have robbed him of his ability to embrace the gifts of resistance.

I hope that somehow he finds a way to see inner resistance as a healthy part of developing the miracle we humans have of being able to learn, change, and grow as a result of conflict, tension, and struggle.  Our “opposable mind”  separates us from animals and makes it possible to resist ourselves and change our own behavior rather than simply follow built in “instincts”.  Resistance is a central ingredient to the ability to learn. Our ability to resist what we have learned so that we can UNLEARN untruths is one of the most wondrous aspects of being human.


When you take the time to consider the potential value of resistance and to ask the question, is war REALLY the best or only metaphor for art?  You open your mind to see that the process of creating art does NOT have to be war.  It can be so much more satisfying and enriching than that.

— Art can be a “dance” with life and the “gardening” of high quality ideas. 

— Art can be an adventure in getting to know ourselves and cultivating self-respect, self-confidence, and humility. 

— Art can teach us self-leadership, conflict resolution and inner consensus-building. 

— Art can challenge and inspire us to cultivate inner alignment instead of trying to dominate ourselves.



Who is winning when you go to war with yourself?  Who loses?  Both sides ARE YOU!  When you “defeat” one part of yourself…that is the REAL act of self-sabotage. Thinking you having an enemy inside is a recipe for depression, anxiety, frustration, and wasting ridiculous amounts of energy fighting that could have been spent listening and learning.

Steven, if you read this piece of resistance to the ideas in your book, I wonder:  Would you even consider rethinking the war metaphor for art?  or would you actively consider the possibly of another way to experience the process of creation?


I wonder if the people who love the book would read this or be inspired to consider new possibilities?  If you were like me and felt something was “off” and felt outnumbered by the vast outpouring of people agreeing with and praising the war metaphor, I hope reading this helps you strengthen your own point of view and conviction to think for yourself – even when it seems like an overwhelming majority disagrees with you.  If you feel more empowered to keep listening to yourself,it was worth taking 4 hours out of my life to write this.