The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
DEC 2006, No.
I, Sec. I
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Media: KC newspaper interview examines holiday conflict-reducing strategies
Shrink Rap: When "Less Is More" or The Value of Taming Your "Intimate FOE"
Main Essay: GLIDE-ing into Performance Excellence: Part II – “Loving to Learn”
Readers: Insults with Class!!!!!, Quotes, A Few Of My Favorite Things: The
Version for Seniors, Politically Correct Stamps
Testimonial: 2006 Maryland ASTD Conference (Keynote)
Heads Up: Booz Allen Hamilton, McDonough Bolyard Peck (Engineering Firm)
Offerings: Phone Consultation/Coaching, Training/Marketing Kit and Books
Overview: Sec. I
1) Media: Newspaper Interview examines holiday gathering strategies to
deal with "Rigid relatives," "Abundant Advice" and "Clash of characters."
2) Shrink Rap: Two recent public presentations -- as keynote luncheon
speaker and wedding toaster -- challenge the Stress Doc to explore the issue of
last minute changes to a planned script. The Doc examines how unanticipated
scaled down decisions and adaptations, both deliberate and spontaneous, may
yield outcomes even more powerful than a longer, well-choreographed and
Overview: Sec. II
1) Main Essay: So how do you embark on an expert learning path and
sustain your sense of purpose and passion? How can the practice blood, sweat,
tears and joy provide both a physical and psychological challenge and help
evolve your whole self? How do you channel mind-body performance energy through
focus and flow? Consider these "Key Tools, Techniques and Tips for 'Loving to
By EDWARD M. EVELD
The Kansas City Star
Mark Gorkin, speaker and author of Practice Safe Stress, recently asked an
audience for a show of hands from those who spent Thanksgiving with relatives.
Most hands went up.
"And in a few days," he said, "how many of you will make that mistake again."
It got a big laugh. A knowing laugh. People definitely feel the closeness this
time of year, cozy and homey at best, maddeningly claustrophobic at worst.
Here are three holiday gathering scenarios that tend to chap people. Gorkin and
Larry Ro-Trock, a Kansas City psychologist and family therapist, offered
They control the holiday. Family traditions are theirs to dictate, from
gathering times to menu items. Young couples and families who attempt their own
traditions do so at their own risk.
Gorkin: Rigid people get anxious when they aren't in control. One strategy is to
have an additional family gathering apart from the primary one. Or do a
non-family, friends-only event. If you want to alter a traditional family event,
give rigid relatives lots of notice.
Ro-Trock: Seed the idea of change early on, and think evolution not revolution.
Get the word out that you respect tradition and rituals but also know that
change, handled well, can be invigorating for families.
In-laws feel the need to provide child-rearing counsel. An aunt explains the
correct way to fix the dish you're preparing. The unsolicited advice seems
Ro-Trock: Get your thinking involved, not just your emotions. Think of their
comments as attempts to be helpful. If they are too rude or invasive, you might
offer your thanks and politely but firmly tell them that the matter at hand is
one you can handle yourself. Weigh the vigor of such a retort against the
impulse, a good one, not to create a scene.
Gorkin: Invite their views and if you disagree, do so in a pleasant way. Start
with, "I'd like to hear your concerns" or "Tell me what you don't like about
this." Then say, "My experience is that I find it works better this way."
Clash of characters
Try as you might, your spouse's family gets on your nerves. Or it's quite
obvious they don't like you. How does this become a happy holiday gathering?
Ro-Trock: Monitor your negative comments leading up to the event and, despite
the temptation, don't criticize your in-laws or the family of your significant
other. Otherwise, expect immediate conflict. At the gathering, focus on the
folks with whom you are more at ease and avoid the ones who trigger negative
Gorkin: Copy the "Seinfeld" episode in which Jerry, Elaine and George make a
party pact to rescue one another from guests driving them nuts. You don't have
to use hand signals (theirs was a head pat), but run interference for your
spouse. Negotiate a time limit at the gathering. Say to your spouse, "To make
this work I need to see a light at the end of the tunnel."
To reach Edward M. Eveld, features writer, call (816) 234-4442 or send e-mail to
Two recent public presentations -- as keynote luncheon speaker and wedding
toaster -- challenge the Stress Doc to explore the issue of last minute changes
to a planned script. The Doc examines how unanticipated scaled down decisions
and adaptations, both deliberate and spontaneous, may yield outcomes even more
powerful than a longer, well-choreographed and rehearsed performance. The essay
explores and expands upon a performance concept developed during a "high
anxiety" Cable TV experience. Are you ready to: "Confront Your Intimate FOE?"
Are you ready to discover the opportunity for improvisation, passionate
engagement and creative transition by tightening and sharpening your focus and
When "Less Is More" or
The Value of Taming Your "Intimate FOE"
Two recent experiences have reminded me that adapting to 11th hour changes is
vital for success as a public presenter. The first experience was as a keynote
speaker at the annual luncheon for the Montgomery County, MD Conference &
Visitors Bureau (CVB). There was a cross-section of folks from the hospitality
industry -- from hotel sales managers and meeting planners to restaurant owners
and floral arrangers. The second event was presenting the first toast at the
wedding of a longtime friend and colleague. There were about 100 attendees at
the luncheon and about 70 wedding guests.
At the luncheon I was compelled to make significant modifications to my planned
program; at the wedding I chose to shorten my toast. This essay will explore
in-depth my deliberate and spontaneous attitudinal and operational adjustments
and how these last minute scaled down decisions and adaptations may have yielded
outcomes even more powerful than a longer, well choreographed and rehearsed
performance. More specifically, I will explore and expand a performance concept
developed in the 1980s based on my "high anxiety" Cable TV experience. The
concept: "Confronting Your Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure." And trust me, the
choice of words is pretty literal. With my raw beginner status and the totally
unpredictable nature of our television shoots, half the time I felt I was
pulling off my pants in front of the camera. (For more background information
on this on-air adventure email for the essay, "Creative Risk-Taking: The Art of
The original conception of FOE will be illustrated through my analysis of the
luncheon experience. The expansion of FOE resulted from the sizeable
contraction of my pearls of wit and wisdom that were to be the sparkling wedding
toast. Can you sense some disappointment at imposing limits on my exuberant (if
not a bit grandiose) stage persona? I suppose this is a natural segue to the
new version of "Confronting Your Intimate FOE: (Being) Full of Egotism."
So…on with the shows!
Keynote Luncheon - FOE: Fear of Exposure
At five minutes after one, just before my introduction, the director of the CVB
informs me that the luncheon program is behind schedule. I'll need to finish my
presentation by 1:30. Gulp…I had planned for 45-60 minutes, including three
interactive exercises; my time was being cut in half. Talk about stress!
Actually, the situation paralleled the double-edged conception of the Chinese
character for "crisis" -- "danger" and "opportunity." Let me illustrate how the
mix of scripted and spontaneous, "thinking on my feet" decisions (while often
holding my breath) was mostly turned into condensed yet colorful "dancing" with
the audience opportunities. Consider these Key "On the Run" Performance
Barriers and Bridges:
1. Overcoming Initial Anxiety. When confronted with the new temporal
reality, I quickly turned my generalized "how will I do this?" anxiety into
starting on solid footing. That is, I followed my scripted introduction,
telling the planned opening joke followed by an overview of my presentational
purpose: to help the audience become FIT, i.e., "To have 'Fun,' to have an
'Interactive' experience and for the program to be 'Thought Provoking.'" I also
told my traditional "burnout battlefront" story that leads into the standard
opening "Three 'B' Stress Barometer" small group exercise: "How does your
'Brain,' 'Body' and 'Behavior' let you know when you are under more STRESS than
2. Operating a Presentational Paradigm Shift. While opening on familiar
territory, nonetheless, this abbreviated time frame required a different balance
between shared information and interactivity. Not having the time to make many
learning points or to go into real conceptual depth, I quickly sensed a
necessary broad operational principle: entertainment would outweigh education
when choosing what to include and what to exclude.
3. Making Specific Edits and Adjustments. The first major adaptation on
the run was realizing that I could not go through "The Four Stages of Burnout"
in usual detail. Still, as we reviewed some of the burnout smoke signals I had
the audience engage in a labored "group sigh" as I know this always generates
knowing laughter. And it also leads to a sure laugh line: "Imagine this, we
have the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of Sighing right here in Montgomery County!"
4. Discovering New Connections and Responses. Perhaps my most important
learning moment occurred during the recitation of the "Three Stages of Burnout
Recovery and Rejuvenation." I was delineating the first stage, "The Six 'F's of
Loss and Change," that is, the social-psychological challenges and tasks that
must be emotionally encountered to successfully grapple with painful
transition. I had noted the "Loss of the Familiar," dealing with an
"Unpredictable Future," as well as a "Loss of Face" and had just about completed
the need to "Regain Focus," especially "Focused Anger." (Focused anger is when
you can temper a sense of rage often generated by feelings of helplessness,
wounded pride or abandonment by honestly embracing your emotional vulnerability
and by doing grief work. In my formulation, gradually and courageously blending
rage and sadness yields "Focused Anger," a paradoxical state of tender
aggression: "I don't like all that's happened but now, 'sadder yet wiser,'
how can I make the best of my new reality?" Tender aggression helps cut the
co-dependency or "b.s." -- "be safe" cord; we can begin to let go and embark on
And fittingly, I spontaneously cut the cord with the tried and true. Responding
to the time pressure and the need to find a new balance for the
information-interaction ratio, I suddenly declared to the audience, "I think we
need to experience some healthy, focused aggression, right now!" And I quickly
moved the group into my high aggressive energy yet safe and fun power struggle
exercise called "You Can't Make Me." (I have everyone find an "eyeball
partner." Next, participants are instructed to "think about someone in your
life who can be a pain in the butt." Of course the most frequent lament is,
"How can I limit it to just one?" Finally, one person says, "You can't make
me," and the opposing party avers, "Oh yes I can!" After volleying their
respective lines a couple of times, they are to "Say what you'd really like to
say to your eyeball adversary." Well the room totally erupted; the decibel
level was off the wall as was the vital energy and spontaneous group laughter.
5. Placing Priorities Over Perfection, Improvisation Over Intention. I
had spontaneously interrupted the countdown of the "Six 'F's," omitting seeking
"Objective Feedback" and having Faith. The last "F" signifying that if you've
tackled the preceding five "F"s, "keep the faith": you will emerge eventually
from this loss and change process with newfound and developed emotional muscles
and a revitalized sense of confidence and purpose. And while I made a mental
note to complete the list at a later point, the performance process overwhelmed
my best intentions. I never did make a fifth and sixth "F" stop…and guess
what. Nobody seemed to mind. They were too busy experiencing the interactive
exercise moment and the remainder of the program.
In truth, the power struggle exercise usually generates high volume and
vitality, though usually I do it after completing the "Three Stages of Burnout
Recovery and Rejuvenation." However, the segue from "Focused Aggression" to the
group interaction seemed to capture the audience at just the right moment both
regarding the surprise factor as well as a readiness to vent emotionally and to
mix it up with a partner. Maybe some of my anxiety and excitement at trying out
the familiar in an unfamiliar manner heightened people's sense of angst and
adventure. I certainly had a performance concept and choice to ponder: when to
flow with the power of improvisation in contrast to purposeful and
6. Hitting Home Key Points and Punchlines. As the volume in the room
gradually subsided, my immediate question to the audience was, "What enabled the
sudden release of such great energy and laughter?" Without waiting for an
answer, I averred that we had created an exercise and an atmosphere where it
felt safe to be aggressive, to say what you were really feeling. Because
theatricality mostly trumped reality in the interaction, along with the
playfully absurd nature of the exercise, many people could risk being
provocative, passionate and playful.
I said, "theatricality mostly trumped reality" because, based on past programs,
some people really do feel a competitive tug. They want to win or they "really
enjoy" acting out their defiance. For others, the laughter actually signals that
the interaction hit close to home. Some people laugh not because of the
absurdity of the exercise but their laughter is a cover for the anxiety stirred
when asked to display some interpersonal aggression.
One purpose of this exercise was to find ways of bringing some of this vital
energy -- healthy aggression and passion -- into their everyday lives, and not
just for resolving conflict. For example, I spontaneously asked if they could
tell that I bring this highly charged energy as a speaker. There was a sea of
nodding heads. I then quickly ticked off "Seven Functions of Healthy
Aggression": 1) Focuses Energy, 2) Sharpens Thinking, 3) Transforms Pain Into
Purpose, 4) Heightens Drive and Discipline, 5) Ignites Mind-Body Chemistry, 6)
Fires Passion and 7) Strengthens, Courage, Commitment and Creativity. (Email
email@example.com for my article, "Vital and Creative Functions of Healthy
I then told the audience that our analysis and discussion of the "Power
Struggle" Exercise could go in several directions, especially moving into
"Communication and Conflict Resolution" concepts and skills: a) why we are
susceptible to being baited into such a struggle, b) key conflict reducing
principles, c) replacing blaming "You" messages with assertive "I" messages,
etc. (I was somewhat frustrated not being able to role-play my "drop the rope"
disarming technique with an audience member.) But again, time was a limiting
factor. Still I decided to enact my role modeling dialogue whereby Person B
drops his authoritarian or threatening retort ("Oh yes I can") and attempts to
assertively and passionately engage the defiant ("You can't make me") Person A.
With my best high-speed delivery, mixing dialogue and parenthetical commentary,
I said: "I don't know if I can make you or I can't make you. That's not where
I'm coming from. [Resist the provocative bait. Don't be quick to play the
authority trump card; you can be tentative without giving up your power
potential.] If we have a problem -- if I'm bugging you or our situation is
problematic -- I'd like to hear about it. [Can we assume that a serious power
struggle is frequently the tip of the iceberg for at least one person's pain or
upset? I think so. Of course, inviting criticism often takes courage. In
addition, such an invitation at minimum says, 'I don't have all the answers; I'd
like to hear your point of view.' And perhaps most important, genuinely asking
for feedback and demonstrating you can handle the same really can help build
trust.] I need your contribution to meet our goals. I believe I'm in a
position to support you. For us to succeed we have to be pulling together not
pulling apart." (This tends to be an especially good ending when using the
"drop the rope" gambit.)
Ironically, having less time to explore a concept in breadth or depth did not
seem to detract from the take home learning. Actually, based on audience
involvement and personal post-keynote comments, the two or three points
showcased really stood out.
7. Letting Go of the Ideal and Valuing the Possible. Once aware of the
time constraints I scratched my signature "Team Discussion and Team Drawing"
exercise. I was both disappointed and worried. This exercise often elevates my
programs to an uncommon level of group sharing and laughing, creative problem
solving and overall audience exuberance. Could I come close to generating such
an impact, to "killing" with the limited time and especially without my big
interactive gun? At the same time I was also somewhat relieved. Even with a
full hour getting in the team drawing exercise would be dicey if I used the
"Three 'B'" and "You Can't Make Me" exercises.
While I could not replicate the drawing exercise experience or energy, it was
clear this abbreviated program could generate it's own idiosyncratic style,
substance and surge. In fact, much like a river that runs faster and is more
turbulent as its banks narrow, the condensed time frame challenged me to be
hyper-energetic as we sped along with content and interactivity. You might call
my intense performance mode a "Three 'D'" state: I had to be "Dynamic,
Discerning and Daring." Swept along by my power current and their own open and
playfully aggressive interplay, the audience was charged by the short yet
surprising and exciting whitewater ride. As the Rolling Stones, normally wise
guys of rock (though occasionally wise men), once noted: "You can't always get
what you want…but you just might find that sometime you get what you need!"
8. Giving In Briefly to Egotism and Creative Defiance. Finally, in the
spirit of a defiant rocker, instead of ending right at 1:30 as promised, I
decided to give the audience a live demonstration of passion, aggression and
playful exuberance. After all the cutting and complying, I had to break at
least one rule. So I broke out my Blues Brothers hat, black sunglasses and
black tambourine and proceeded to perform one of my pioneering works in the
field of psychologically humorous rap music…a "Shrink Rap" ™ called "The Song of
Safe Stress" ™. Though five minutes late, let's just say we couldn't have ended
on a more outrageously absurd and enthusiastically received note.
In conclusion, this "on the edge" keynote experience had helped broaden my
consciousness and confidence. Despite trepidation I was able to confront,
challenge and channel my "Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure" angst and energy by
negotiating performance barriers and building realistic performance bridges,
1. Overcoming Initial Anxiety
2. Operating a Presentational Paradigm Shift
3. Making Specific Edits and Adjustments
4. Discovering New Connections and Responses
5. Placing Priorities Over Perfection, Improvisation Over Intention
6. Hitting Home Key Points and Punchlines
7. Letting Go of the Ideal and Valuing the Possible
8. Giving In Briefly to Egotism and Creative Defiance
More succinctly, by honoring the Stress Doc aphorism -- "Do know your limits and
don't limit your 'No's!" -- "where do I go from here?" danger was transformed
into "less is more" opportunity. While learning to set appropriate
interpersonal boundaries is a critical part of adult maturation, sometimes
evolving as a person and performer requires the ability to "Just Say No" to your
Wedding Toast - FOE: (Being) Full of Egotism
As soon as the bride asked me to make a toast at her wedding, I had begun
jotting down some immediate associations. Chere and I went way back: we met at
a mid-80s conference put on by Legal Assistant Today, the trade publication for
which we both wrote. Then in the '80s and '90s I did periodic training and
writing for Chere's legal placement company. And in between, while Chere and I
were both single, there was a lot of communication about the challenge of
meeting Mr. and Ms. Right. (Of course, one of my jottings noted that, Allen,
her betrothed, was an attorney. Aha, not only had she been "looking" but Chere
actually managed to find "Mr. Good Bar.") In the last few years, Chere and
Allen started a business putting on national conferences for paralegals; I
became their conference kickoff speaker. And I believe, for a period of time,
illness had one if not both of Allen's parents living with their son and future
daughter-in-law. Potentially a toast could cover a lot of territory and
A week before the wedding I began to focus seriously on this presentation. In
fact, as I began organizing and rehearsing the ideas my toast seemed to be
morphing into a three-four minute roast. I even gave Chere a heads up. She
seemed okay with my doing a little speech but, truthfully, she probably had a
hundred other things much more important requiring her attention.
Also at the last minute I was asked to escort one of Allen's daughters up to the
"chuppa," the wooden and floral latticed structure where the Rabbi would preside
over the wedding ceremony. The most significant aspect of being "on stage" was
that I was only a few feet away when Chere and Allen, responding to a prompt
from the Rabbi, said what each meant to the other. Both are in their mid-50s;
each had been divorced one time and both had been single for decades. What
emerged in their brief yet beautiful sharing, in voices that were shyly and
tenderly quivering with hard earned conviction, was how each quickly knew they
had found the one. Their life history helped them appreciate how sincere was
their love and how special was their uncommon connection. The sustenance and
fulfillment each provided the other was there for all to witness. And the tears
in their eyes certainly were mirrored by my own.
With this history and ceremony as backdrop, let me illustrate how I resolved the
"roast" or "toast" dilemma, and once again, discovered the pivotal performance
principle - "less is more."
1. Knowing Your Audience. After the ceremony people went to their
assigned tables. I was sitting next to a lawyer who also presents at the
paralegal conferences. David and I have developed a fairly open and honest
relationship. Upon hearing my plan for a short roast, David immediately said
three powerful words: "Know your audience." He thought the room too diverse
for much of what I wanted to share. Why was my gut not telling my mouth to
immediately push back? Unlike the imposed time limits at the keynote luncheon,
roast or toast would be my call. Hmm…would I be toast if I did a roast?
2. Letting Go of One's Pearls. I had written and rehearsed for several
hours during the previous week. The thought of cutting back was definitely
disappointing. I thrive on the "stand up" challenge, needing both the
performance anxiety and the excitement of seeing if I can deliver a provocative
and playful message in a concise, passionate and memorable package. Not only my
roast but also my "Psychohumorist" ™ role-persona was on the line. Alas, this
toast was not about me; it was an affirmation of Chere and Allen. In hindsight,
choosing to cut back my remarks, especially a planned ditty (a play on "Tea for
Two") was fraught with pitch perfect irony. The name of the ditty: "Tenaci-Tea
for Two: The Narcissist's Version":
You for me and me for me
Oh how nurturing you will be
Forget to be or not to be
Just simply think of me, me, me!
You've got to admit it's very cute.
3. Embracing the Contextual Moment. But the real roast breaker was the
heartfelt and soulful sharing between Chere and Allen under the "chuppa"
(summarized above) preceding some blessings and the "I do" vows. I did not want
to detract in any way from their exchange. Actually, I could not have
trivialized the poignancy of their personal sharing. If anything, clever words
would be trivial by comparison.
4. Recognizing an ADD Situation. The moment of decision and delivery
had arrived. Once in front of the dining room, my gut said keep it brief.
People were still eating; they were more interested in the next course and the
side conversation. There was a small attention window. If I was going to
deliver food for thought it had better be the "fast food for thought" variety.
And so I did.
5. Making Each Word and Idea Count. I immediately shared my uncertainty
about doing a roast or a toast. But after hearing Chere and Allen's truly
beautiful and heartfelt words, it was clear that a poignantly to the point toast
was the right thing to do. I then expressed my belief that the relationship
between Chere and Allen personified true synergy: "The quality of their
communication and their supportive and nurturing relationship was even richer
than their decidedly uncommon individual parts." And finally, with glass held
aloft, I closed my toast:
For the good fight (in all arenas)
For close friends
For much laughing and loving
And for many more great adventures…
For Chere and Allen!
And for a brief moment by honoring the essence of a special couple we became a
community in energy and spirit.
I had grappled with and conquered my "Intimate FOE: (Being) Full of
Egotism"...this time. I suspect there will be many other FOE challenges ahead,
whether of the "Egotism" or "Fear of Exposure" variety. These two experiences
-- the luncheon keynote and the wedding toast -- really opened my eyes and
mind. I had discovered presentational power along with the opportunity for
improvisation, passionate engagement and creative transition when letting go of
the script as you simultaneously tighten and sharpen your focus and expression.
(Regarding this last point, no less a "word artist" than Shakespeare would
agree. According to the bard, "Brevity is the soul of wit.")
And finally, by trusting inward reflection and objective feedback less expansive
choices may yet become the energy source for larger and deeper connection. The
existential question: Can I more consistently overcome those "Intimate FOEs" by
consciously selecting the briefest and the best while foregoing the rest? Will
I continue to explore the paradoxical idea that "less can be more?" Surely
these are questions not only to help me evolve as a speaker but to help us all…Practice
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, is a psychotherapist and
"Motivational Humorist" whose Interactive Keynotes and Kickoffs draw wide and
"amazing" acclaim - from Fortune 100s and Federal Agencies to around the world
with Celebrity Cruise Lines. An OD/Team Building Consultant, Mark is the
author of Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress,
Burnout & Depression and of The Four Faces of Anger: Transforming Anger, Rage,
and Conflict Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior. Also, the Doc is AOL's
"Online Psychohumorist" ™ running his weekly "Shrink Rap ™ and Group Chat." See
his award winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- cited as a
workplace resource by National Public Radio (NPR). Finally, Mark is an advisor
to The Bright Side ™ -- www.the-bright-side.org -- a multi-award winning mental
health resource. Email for his monthly newsletter showcased on List-a-Day.com.
For more info on the Doc's speaking and training programs, call or email the
"Stress Doc": 301-946-0865 or firstname.lastname@example.org . And to view web video
highlights of a Stress Doc Keynote, go to
(c) Mark Gorkin 2006
Shrink Rap Productions