All posts by Eric


About Eric

I'm a positive psychology nerd and I help develop the Daily Zen content for the Online Academy. I'm also an aspiring actor in China, and spend my free time getting beat up by the good guys in movies and TV shows.

Three Painful Modes of Communication

Much of classic Chinese thought holds that human nature is originally good.  For example, take the first line from the “Three Character Classic,” a text which summarizes the teachings of Confucianism for children: 人之初,性本善 (People at birth are naturally good).

But if we’re so good, why are there so many ‘bad’ people out there?  The next line gives us a hint: 性相近,习相远 (Our natures are similar, but our habits make us different).  In this post, I want to talk about some of our habitual modes of communication which tend to take us away from our natural state of ‘goodness’ and bring us ever more pain and suffering.

The following three commonly used forms of communication are highly likely to lead to defensiveness and resistance from anyone (including yourself), making it more difficult to get in touch with our natural state of benevolence described by ancient Chinese wisdom.

1. Moralistic Judgments

“He’s such a jerk.” “You’re not cut out for this.” “I’m so stupid!”  Labels, criticism, insults are all forms of judgment.  On a theoretical level, all labels are inherently inaccurate because they don’t take things like relativity and constant change into consideration (this is why our Daily Zen program focuses on observing rather than judging or labeling).

But on a practical level, judgments can take

ve, which will make it ever more difficult to come to a mutually beneficial outcome.

2. Making Comparisons

It's all apples and oranges (and bananas)

It’s all apples and oranges (and bananas)

“I wish my Tai Chi form looked as cool as his.” “I’m way prettier than she is.”  ”I liked my old boss better.” Comparisons are another form of judgment.  If you’d like to experience the negative power of making comparisons, try out the following exercise:

  • At age 29, Mark Zuckerberg had a net worth of over $25 billion.  How much were you worth at that age?  Ponder on the difference
  • Ate age 12, Jet Li won his first National Wushu Championship, where he competed against the best athletes from all over China.  How were your martial skills at age 12?  Compare them with Jet’s.
  • At age 8, Mozart composed his first symphony, which I’ve embedded below.  Listen to the song and think about your proudest achievement at the same age.

After trying this exercise, how are you feeling?  Let that feeling guide your future decisions about making comparisons.

3. Denial of Responsibility

We are responsible for all our thoughts, feelings, and actions, but much of our language attempts in vain to free us from that responsibility.  One of the biggest perpetrators of this kind of language is statements involving the phrase “have to.”  For example, “I have to go to work,” “You have to do your homework.”

When we speak this way to ourselves or others, whoever we’re speaking to only has two choices: to submit or rebel.  If that person rebels, they won’t do the thing they ‘have to’ do.  If they submit, they’ll do it, but with an energy of negativity and resentment.

 In summary, if you’d like to be happy, you might be better off leaving moralistic judgments, comparisons, and language that denies responsibility out of your vocabulary.

Admittedly, it’s hard to do a don’t.  I’ll write another post soon on some alternatives to these negativity inducing forms of communication.

What has been your experience with communication like this?  Do you enjoy being judged, compared, or blamed?  Tell us your stories in the comments section.

Turning Personal Growth into a Competition

I recently wrote briefly about the spirit of competition in my post about how to practice Tai Chi effectively with a partner.

Check out this great article from MindBodyGreen that talks about the potential ugly side of competition:

Are You Turning Spirituality Into a Competition? Read This

This type of spiritual competition may lead us to wonder why bother, since we’ll never be as good as so-and-so. I’m the first to admit that I still have moments like this, as do a number of my friends, students and clients. Here are five ways to navigate away from spiritual competition and towards spiritual fulfillment, unity and harmony.

Don’t get too caught up in the race of life that you forget to be happy!


Is competition a helper or a hindrance to your own practice?  Tell us what you think in the comments section!

How to Relax Emotionally

I recently posted on about some ways to take control of your emotions using Tai Chi philosophy.  In this post, I wanted to flesh out one of the most important steps – emotional acceptance.

We’ve made a lot of posts about physical and mental rest, but so far have neglected to talk about another important form of rest – emotional rest.  This might seem like a strange concept to some – how can we relax our emotions?

For the most part, we have very little control over our emotions.  The part of our brain most responsible for emotions (the amygdala) is located in the very center of our brain – the part that even lizards have evolved.  The part of our brain which is responsible for conscious decision making (the prefrontal cortex) is located behind our forehead.  There are hundreds of thousands of connections running from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortext, but only a handful running in the opposite direction.*

What does this mean?  That our emotions, for the most part, are running the show.  So how can we rest something which we have so little control over?  I like to explain using a quote from the famous mindfulness teacher / psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn: “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”


What does it mean to learn how to surf?  When we experience emotions, they tend to multiply on themselves.  For example, let’s say you’re driving in your car and you just miss the green light and get stuck at a red.  This annoys you.  Then you think to yourself ‘This is stupid, why am I getting angry about something so small?’  Now you’re angry at yourself for being angry.

When you surf, you can’t resist the flow of the waves.  If you try to resist, you’ll end up underwater.  The same is true with emotions.  If you resist your emotions and try to fight them, they will consume you.  If instead you accept your emotions, then they lose their grip over you, and you can glide along their surface.

The key is acceptance; another quote I like from famous grief expert Elizabeth Kübler-Ross goes like this: “I’m not OK, you’re not OK, and that’s OK.”  Once we realize it’s perfectly normal and OK to be feeling whatever it is that we’re feeling in this moment, we’ve accepted it.  Only upon accepting an emotion can we move beyond it.  If you can’t accept the emotion, accept your unacceptance.  If you can’t accept your unacceptance, accept the fact that you can’t accept your unacceptance.

Accept.  Embrace.  Surrender.  Yield.  It works the same way in Taijiquan.  If you try to fight hard with hard, you’ll end up with broken bones.  But if you use soft to defeat the hard, you can use your opponent’s power against them.

Do you ever take time to rest your emotions?  Next time you notice yourself in an emotional state which you don’t want to be in, give acceptance a try and let us know how it goes!

*Source – Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys To Transforming the Way We Work and Live