Stories we share

We have all found reason to share our personal stories at one time or another.

At 65, My life could be recounted in a narrative that could take days to tell from beginning to end. And so, I’m guessing, could many of yours. Few situations in life will call for this outpouring of facts and events. The typical, more condensed “share” will generally suffice for most purposes—it only needs to include what is helpful and pertinent to the person or people you’re talking with.

This winnowing of personal information is what we do all the time. We parse and cobble together the bits and pieces of our lives according to expectation, need, and convention. I might tell one story of myself to a client, for example, and a very different story to a close friend. A third very condensed story of me would help me to introduce myself at a conference.

While some of this narrative cobbling is more methodical and rehearsed than others, we are generally fairly conscious of what we share.

Stories We Keep Private

What about the stories we don’t share—the ones that roll around in our heads all day long? The ones that are made up of a tangle of disjointed thoughts?

The subject matter of the stories we tell ourselves privately is not so different from that of the the stories we share: life events, our “people,” and who we are and what we do.

Differing purposes of the “shared” vs “not shared” stories.

Public stories are often shared as a way to establish who we are to others so they know what to expect from us. Internal stories seem to be without any discernible purpose. There isn’t the need to have these stories make sense, at least to another person.

Self-reflective narratives are seldom deliberated over, if they are thought about or even noticed at all. Despite this lack of deliberation, consistent themes come forward in the form of repeating, insistent, thoughts. These automatic ways of thinking, or auto-thoughts, are the cornerstone of our stories. Auto-Thoughts reliably hint at how we see ourselves: who we are, what we’re like, our struggles and triumphs. They directly influence our emotions. And in my experience Auto-Thoughts also predict, and then go on to create, life events.

Are we missing something important?

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve overlooked the importance of these internal stories. Because these AutoThoughts are so important to our well-being, awareness of what we think, and when, is worth pursuing. What if we edited our internal stories in the same way we edit written narratives, or those personal stories that we intend to share? Future emails will be dedicated to this–editing with carefully selected thoughts and themes.

Auto-Thoughts, Defined

Here are some examples of Auto-thoughts I’ve come across in just the last week or so.

  • I look terrible!
  • I’m a dolt (I had to look this one up–it’s a stupid person)
  • This is only going to get worse
  • I don’t care
  • I’ll probably end up homeless

What is it that distinguishes these as Auto-Thoughts? It’s their automatic, repetitive quality—the fact that they have (or I can assume they have) been thought more than once within a few day’s time, or even as much as several times in a 5-minute period. Their characteristics fit the traditional meaning of automatic in that they seem to spring up spontaneously, with little or no control over their emergence or frequency.

This short list of Auto-Thoughts leans toward the negative, especially if I consider the context in which I heard them. If they were uttered by a single individual (they weren’t), we could begin to build a story in our minds about the person for whom these appear to be true. And they probably would be part of his or her story, because internal stories are built primarily from bits of narrative like these.

Here is a list of a few positive Auto-Thoughts that I did not hear over the past week, and so I made up the list. (And since I had to invent a list to share here, you might notice that I created a list that is almost the direct the opposite of the first list.)

  • I look good!
  • I’m smart
  • This is only going to get better
  • I care
  • I’ll always have a warm, comfortable place to call home

The fact that these and other Auto-Thoughts did not come up in conversation is probably proof enough that we, as humans, tend to have a bias towards the negative. But then, that is a pretty well-known fact.

In my experience, most every thought that comes to us over and over again will be self-fulfilling. When Auto-Thoughts are positive, it’s usually a good thing. Positive Auto-Thoughts help us to do and say, and connect with, what we love; things we can be proud of. If they’re not so positive, they keep us tethered to the parts of our lives that we’re already struggling with. They prevent us from living our fullest, most enjoyable lives.

How or why these thoughts “create” the events of our lives is pretty much a mystery. But if we pay close attention, we begin to notice that negative thoughts attract other negative thoughts, which evoke negative emotions, and pretty soon a story emerges that is so predominant and solid that a major edit feels nearly impossible.

On the flip side, I can trace most of the most enjoyable events and successes of my life back to a few positive thoughts about strengths I knew I possessed, or the exciting things I might encounter, or what I loved, and I’m guessing that you can say the same.

A niggling Auto-Thought

I’ll share a little secret. As I write this, there is a very loud and repeating thought telling me I will fail. Not just fail with my email series, but fail at writing this very first introductory letter. “Shut up,” it’s telling me! I’m aware that this particular Auto-Thought has been with me for some time, and despite my awareness, it still comes around fairly often. It was much more frequent and bothersome when I first began working with it.

Sometimes it’s difficult to get rid of an Auto-Thought that has worn a groove inside your brain. The more you try, the more fiercely it hangs on.

In a way, “Shut up!” (as an Auto-Thought) is trying to protect me. Long ago, I developed a belief that it’s safer to be silent than to share what I love to talk about. We’ll get into that Belief (and your Beliefs, too) in our next Episode.

How does this apply to me? (you might wonder)

I’d like to help you to identify your own Auto-Thoughts. Once you aware of them, they can be adjusted to better fit your life objectives. I developed a step by step system that has helped clients to do this.

Are you aware of Your Auto-Thoughts? Do they scream at you when you are there on the cusp of something really good in life? You know the drill: You want to finally express yourself and they silence you. You want do that thing you are just meant to do, and they erect a barricade. You want to fly a little beyond those invisible limits but your Auto-Thoughts have so masterfully camouflaged said limits that they can’t be made out.

Despite their intensity, we’re often not aware of how influential Auto-Thoughts are–especially when they’ve been with us for a very long time. I wasn’t aware of my “Shut up!” Auto-Thought until about a decade ago. That’s a powerful influence over a very long period.

As I share information about each Element of this Regeneratively Rooted system, I’ll be working right alongside you, with my own Auto-Thoughts, Beliefs, and all of the other RegRoot Elements, but especially that one mentioned here—that little pesky bit of narrative that is trying to keep me from launching this project.

If I were reading this, I’d be wondering about cost. The good news: this email series is free (and I’m hoping to offer all future series at no charge, as well.) But if you’re looking for some way to give back, please read on.

An Opportunity

My favorite thing to talk about is what’s in your heart. I help clients look inside themselves to see whether the stories that they are living, and the stories they want to live, are a match. Not a match? I’ve got some tools to help with that.

A philosophy central to The Expert Within is that as individuals, we can practice strengthening our own autonomy and sense of authority. We can connect with inner wisdom. This might mean moving away from a worldview in which the expert is always outside of ourselves. You’re the expert on you, as I see it.

At the same time, we’re hardwired for connection, so while we become more aware or our inner selves through this email series we can begin to form a tribe of individuals who are on a similar path.

To that end, would you be willing to share your most aggravating, persistent Auto-Thoughts with me? Or conversely, share the ones that make your life sublime? The button just below will allow you to do that, and your feedback will help me to be more consistently effective with the help I offer. I promise that I won’t share any feedback I receive from you unless you ask me to.

Click on the link just below to watch a video I know you’ll find inspiring!


Goat Academy: Situation 1

In my last “Situation” post, I said that nature’s elements could be brutal.  The Melanoma diagnosis I received in 2012 was, to my way of thinking, one of the elements.  It didn’t seem that much different from a lightning strike or the kind of powerful wind just that can do some serious damage.

Damage or not, I like to think that my life has that same ability to rebalance that nature has so beautifully demonstrated after almost every kind of disaster I can come up with.

A few years before this diagnosis, I suffered a traumatic brain injury after a fall from a horse.  That did some serious damage, too. But at the time I was insistent that the brain injury I suffered from would not derail what was then a new career as a therapist.  I was used to overcoming almost any challenge.  12-hour workdays let me see this obstacle as just another something to overcome.   

When cancer came along, it was back to the drawing table with my “can do” philosophy. 

After diagnosing the Melanoma, the general surgeon told me I needed a second surgery, done by an oncology surgeon, to make sure we removed all the cancerous cells.  A lymph node biopsy would be needed in order to assess whether the cancer had spread. 

Should I attempt to push back against Melanoma with the force that the medical world deemed appropriate? I wasn’t sure.

For a while, I wavered between a “good guys” and “bad guys” characterization of the elements.  After the one-two punch of a brain injury followed by cancer, I settled on “bad guys” for a time.   Sinister, gravely voices shoved the sunlit breezy rustling, baby-bird squeak-chirping, and the fluttering wings aside.

Now I wanted to fight back.  I scheduled an appointment with the second surgeon.  

Then this occurred to me: Attempting to go after every last cancer cell might turn out to be nothing more than a way of avoiding some kind of wise voice built into it. It seemed more likely that I should think of Cancer as a message, and follow its prescriptions, whatever they turned out to be.

Aware that I had been working too hard to compensate for the brain injury, I sensed that what I really needed was rest.  

I decide against following the advice of both surgeons.  I skipped the surgery and lymph node biopsy and investigated what changes I might need to make in order to heal–an alternate path, and, yes, an uncertain one.  But I felt I should get out of my body’s way and let it do its own healing. 

Once I set out, I would stay alert for Cancer’s wise voice. And hope to God that it had one.

Beyond the body’s rest, I also needed to look inside, if for no other reason than the possibility that this element had come about to tell me something.  Some big life message that I had missed for one reason or another.    

Then I learned from alternative cancer studies that many cancer patients exhibit type-C personality traits, something they had learned earlier as a way to cope. People with type-C personalities fail to share their feelings or attend to their own needs, and generally put others first. 

I thought I saw this tendency in myself.  I had always enjoyed working hard.  A day of intensely focused work gave me a sense of accomplishment–fruits of my labors that I could be proud of. A second career as a therapist gave me the added joys of helping others bring positive change to their lives. 

I liked the work of attuning to others and teasing out their inner-expert.  As an extra bonus–albeit one born of my unconsciousness–this focus on others gave me the ability to push away the things in me that didn’t feel good.

Vulnerability, uncertainty, and lack of clarity weren’t states of mind that I was completely comfortable with.  I lacked the awareness to cultivate the same wellness-building and growth-promoting connection with emotion that I routinely prescribed as “good medicine” for my own clients. 

With the Melanoma diagnosis, I stepped back from my practice to focus on my own health, knowing that on some level that this would entail coming face to face with disowned feelings.  Despite this purposeful dive into a new arena of self-investigation, some unconscious part of me continued to defend against what I didn’t want to face. While I sifted through what I was beginning to know, I referred my clients to other psychotherapists who I felt could better care for them while I focused on myself. 

Garage, Sweet Garage 

So, what was my response to this new information? Not wanting (or knowing it would be best) to hand over control to the Elements, to get quiet and listen more intently to their message, I did what you do when you’re not only unenlightened, but vaguely contrary.  I changed course.  I found a way to focus less on myself, my needs, and my pesky feelings with a single phone call to acquire some male kid goats.   

I cleared out my garage to make room for new life. I adopted baby goats Leo and Orion, gifted by a friend who had an eighty-goat herd and dairy in Cumberland, Wisconsin. I picked them up from the farm, loaded them into a dog carrier, and drove thirty miles back to my farm on Highway 46.  

Dwarfed by the large carrier I thought would barely contain them, they stayed jammed towards the back, peering out warily in my direction. Finally, I was able to snag each by the leg and remove them gingerly from the car. I installed them in their new home, a small metal pole shed with a dirt floor with two south-facing windows and a kitchen door visible from both.  The kids’ abrupt change of residence was, no doubt, a shock. As they were transferred from dog carrier to pole shed, they were dubious of their new surroundings. I’m pretty sure a garage and a wire wrap-around fence enclosure were not on their bucket list of places to stay–a barnyard prison, so to speak. 

They made mental notes of security weaknesses to leverage as a means of escape.  Captivity and confinement could be tossed aside as soon as they had a good plan.  Frequent sidelong glances towards my dog, Gobo, and me added to their arsenal of tactical information. 

Their plan to spring from the farm seemed to recede from their consciousness around day four.  That’s because I was delivering the milk.  Lots of it.  They were ready every time I came out and they required milk twice a day.  Pretty soon, I was the most special person in their world, and they wouldn’t dream of leaving me.  

The twin kids would climb over each other to get to the bottles. A three-minute duet of staccato sucking noises followed. Whichever finished first would shove the other out of the way and latch onto his brother’s bottle to get the drizzle of remaining milk.   

Weeks passed.  Woozy under the influence of rich goat’s milk, the inside of the garage became less prison cell, more childhood home; their “jailer” became someone to love. Leo, who wouldn’t have anything to do with me on adoption day, would now climb onto my lap and gaze dreamily into my eyes, the farmyard version of Stockholm Syndrome. I fell in love–direct access to the heart via livestock ownership. 

During my consult with the oncology surgeon, the friend who accompanied me asked what would happen if I didn’t have the surgery.  “The cancer will come back,” the surgeon said without hesitation. Not “could,” not even “would.”  Will was the word he used.  He avoided the “condition” that would typically be built into that particular declaration.  That single word will (and its forced certainty) made me strangely curious.  There seemed to be an absence of the context that time (or a good rewrite) would provide.  A shift, changing the word “will”–to “could”–and “could”–to “won’t.”  I wanted to live in the story of “the cancer won’t come back.”  A warm glowy home instead of a prison. 

Eventually, my story, like the goat’s, received an edit.  I added my “inner expert” to the cast of characters.  I skipped the surgery and followed my heart.  I read all the stories of unexpected and miraculous recoveries I could find, igniting in me what panic had erased.  Trust in my ability to heal.   

Walls of a garage changed from “prison” to “home” with a slight change in story structure–a slant.  Following this wizardry as best I could, I rewrote my own story to give it a better slant, too. 

Time moves on and a story changes–a story of a “Type C” at one time missing out on life’s joys, but now living a bit more within their range. The story of goats whose prison becomes a beloved home they wouldn’t dream of leaving. Time broadened the understanding of living beyond cancer just as time broadened the goats’ understanding of “the prison” and the “woman who runs it.” Hardship fades from memory, brains rewire, and trauma gets rewritten.

Jumping to the end, past all the twists and turns, I thought about how goats, garages, and scary cancer news might shift and change over time.

Scrambling the beginning, middle and end, I grabbed onto the “happily ever after.” With a determined spirit, I started living the ending as if it were now; I started living the “ever after.”   

As I fed my goats and stared into their dreamy eyes, I imagined myself as someone who doesn’t have cancer.

Orion finished his bottle first, shoved his brother, and looked at me. I jumped into a different story and Leo and Orion jumped alongside me.







From the beginning: "A" Discovery

You might notice that Auto-Thoughts begins with the first letter of the alphabet.  All of the remaining Markers will follow that same pattern:  Auto-thoughts, Beliefs, Consequences, Dig…. (So will the Tools.  You’ll see)

Shut up!  In 2012, this was my most pronounced Auto-thought, directed at goats and people and, especially, myself.

While I never uttered the words aloud, it was a constant theme.  Why had everyone from my goats to the guy on his cell phone at the gas station become insufferable in their chatty-ness?  Mornings became my time to think and Google, which I did with a cup of tea, from bed.  Truth be told, I did a lot of my Googling in this upstairs bedroom at all times of the day, sitting on my mattress aside a big heap of window and door trim stashed under the eaves. Between Google searches, I listened to my own chatty thoughts which sometimes took the form of a question.

“Did my slant create the cancer?”  I asked the empty room.   The trim-less walls and windows stayed silent.

If I wasn’t Googling the number of coats needed for the dark stain I would need to apply once the trim was in place, I was Googling to find out what others did to “cure” cancer.

I read research that discussed the Type C (for cancer) personality—fearful, stoic, and inauthentic. I noted these qualities in myself.

Fun Fact:  we’re born with many of our most ingrained qualities.  And what we’re not born with, much of what we acquire, quality-wise, happens early on.  I learned that the best way to get along with people was to be masked and silent, so that became one of my most defining qualities.  Although I wasn’t aware of any of this, it gave me a certain sense of safety to quietly recede to the back of the room.

This is how “Shut Up!” became the primary Auto-Thought I began my Elements work with.  As I yearned for a quiet place from which to gather my thoughts, I kept a tight fist on my status quo:  head down as to avoid conflict and unwanted attention.  At the same time, my goats and everyone else within ear shot got louder.

One morning, between the Google searches, came this thought about “shut up”:  Maybe others seemed to talk tiresomely and ceaselessly because I had so silenced myself.  I was the common denominator.  I had identified loudness as my nemesis, but it was actually my self-enforced silence.

I had no idea how to fix this.

And yet, I felt lighter with this realization.  It seems I had unearthed an important recognition centered on a single Auto-thought.  If I was lucky, this “Shut Up!” might point the way towards even more self-discovery.

Reader's Action Step

Identify some of your own Auto-thoughts.  They’re any thought that you have more than a few times a week.  They can be positive or negative.  The negative ones often manifest negative emotions and/or events.

You might find it difficult to catch yourself thinking automatic thoughts in the beginning.  I find that I can be more aware of random thoughts when I’m doing a “mindless” task, like washing the dishes or weeding the garden or, at this time of year, shoveling snow.  Just before or after a task that takes some focus is a good time to catch yourself “thinking” about the task at hand.

Automatic thoughts can be positive, neutral, or negative.  Here are some examples in each category:


Neutral:  I’m so hungry!  I’m so tired!  


  • There is never enough (fill in the blank–hours in the day, money, support…you get the idea)
  • I’m late / behind!
  • I look frumpy / fat / old.

Now select one of the negative Auto-thoughts, and write it down. Sit with your intuition for five minutes, staying open for clues about what the Markers might be ready to show you.  Jot down anything that comes to mind.

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