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Are you confident?

19 Sep

Ask yourself: Am I confident?

Got an answer?

I anticipate a few different responses:

  1. “Hell yeah, baby! I’ve got it going on!”
  2. “Um, I guess. It kinda depends on the situation.”
  3. “I wish I was more confident. I struggle with having pretty low self-esteem.”

Obviously the answers can vary tremendously, but I’d say that like most aspects of behavior, your answer for your level of confidence will operate on a continuum.

You’re likely thinking that you should be able to answer the question with something close to #1, yet avoiding what would be construed as arrogance and pretentiousness.

Research indicates that lack of confidence is actually healthy. It’s a driver for assessing your weaknesses and learning more in order to better yourself. Don’t confuse this please with a lack of self-efficacy and learned-helplessness. No, you weren’t born with your intelligence being genetically determined. Genes are important, yes. They provide the foundation for what makes us, well, us. However, it’s the environment and how we think and what we do and the activities that we engage in that unlock our genes and govern their expression.

Experience changes our brains in substantial ways. Mindful awareness exercises produce noticeable increases, for example, in brain matter density in the areas responsible for attention and emotion regulation. Why? Because with effort put toward this behavior and our attention being directed in this intentional manner, we increase blood flow to those areas. More blood flow means more nutrients and capillaries growing in those regions.

But back to confidence– if your confidence tank was always topped off how often would you be motivated to try something new, read a book, ask questions, meet people, engage in a challenging conversation, or take lessons to strengthen your skill in a particular area?

competenceIn his book, Confidence: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem, Insecurity, and Self-Doubt, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic explains how when you look past confidence, what you find is an underlying desire to be competent. We often confuse the two concepts. In essence, when you say, “I lack confidence”, what you’re really expressing doubt about is your competence level in a certain area.

Competence is actually a key factor in our level of motivation and the determination we implement toward a goal. One of our basic psychological needs, it represents our felt sense of mastery and skill. If we hear ourselves saying, “I doubt I can do this” or “I’m not confident I can succeed with this” perhaps this isn’t negative at all, as many people would think it is. I’ve heard plenty of people comment in reply to statements like this, “Have faith!” or “Have confidence! It’ll happen!” Is it important to be positive? Sure. There’s plenty of research that shows a positive attitude changes the biochemistry in our bodies, results in improved health and immunity, and even changes the outlooks of those around us. But let’s not be unrealistically optimistic. “I doubt I can do this” gives us impetus to ask the next question, “What do I need to consider as I move forward?” and “Are there obstacles that I might encounter along the way, and how might I prepare for them?” Anticipating in this manner creates an environment that leads us in the direction of greater competence, and confidence will follow!

Starving, Stressed, and Stockpiling

1 Sep

We’re involved in a crisis. It’s epic. It’s huge. Just like we are.

We’re starving. Yet we’re fat. Ironic.

We’re suffering from a severe deficiency. As much as we eat, and we’re lacking nourishment.

Our bodies are deprived and I argue it’s because we’ve lost our minds. Literally.

When I hear “Kori, I’m hungry…all the time”, as a nutrition consultant, I go automatically to the structure of the diet. The nuts and bolts– what are you eating, when are you eating it, how  much are you eating when you’re eating. I’m looking at the blood sugar response they are creating based on these components of their intake. This is not a comprehensive list, of course.

The second place I go though, and the fact that I’m a therapist makes this a bit less daunting for them (or it’s the reason they’ve come to me in the first place), is straight to the heart of the matter. The heart, and what I’d argue is the center of our wisdom. What’s in there is what we’re constantly trying to feed, except the nourishment (or what we’re mistaking for nourishment) we’re giving it often leaves us feeling more empty, more deprived, and more hungry.

So we’re starving. But it’s not for lack of food. We’re starving for contentment, we’re starving for authenticity, we’re starving for connection, we’re starving for competence, we’re starving for worth, we’re starving for freedom, we’re starving for the creative capacity to be ourselves in a world that says we’re not good enough as we are, we’re starving for presence, we’re starving for attention. (By the way, as I was typing this my cat jumped on my lap and didn’t stop meowing in my face until I paid attention to him. The second I met his eyes, even without touching him, and spoke softly to him, he stopped crying, laid down, and fell asleep).

Wrapped up in this spiritual starvation (and by this I just mean the “whole” of who we are) is the stress response. When I say we’re starving for attention, I am not referring to the attention we get from others, although this is likely an unfortunate reality in our automated, digital world, which has us developing less genuine relationships with others; I’m speaking to the attention we’re giving the moments of our lives– the awareness with which we approach each situation, event, person, task, meal. The attention we put into this second, right now determines our embodiment– the essence of our being, how in tune I am to what’s occurring around me and inside of me, and how open I am to experiencing this experience. Sound a bit hokey?

Consider the results of a published in Gastroenterology assessing the concept of “dichotomous listening.” (Imagine being at work and trying to listen to the individual on the phone when your boss walks in and starts talking about some new ideas he’s been wanting to share with you– I know you’ve been there). In this study the subjects were given a mineral drink when in a relaxed state, and then again when exposed to the same sort of situation as the one described above. Absorption for sodium and chloride was tested for both conditions. Absorption in the small intestine occurred at a rate of 100% for the relaxed group. Care to guess the rate for the distracted group?

Zero.

Paying attention to two things at the same time resulted in 0% absorption. (Now think about what happens when you inhale your meal sitting in front of the television with your computer on your lap checking for text messages on your smart phone).

Now back to the stress response. Something similar happens when you’re in fight or flight mode. First, remember how this response came about- it was necessary and useful when we were at risk of being eaten by lions. The threats of the 21st century are far from life-altering. Well, let me rephrase. What we are perceiving as threatening in the activities of our daily lives do not necessitate the kill or be killed reaction. Second, digestion stops when we’re in stress mode. There’s a reason that the opposite mode, governed by the parasympathetic nervous system, promotes “rest and digest”, and aptly, the “feed and breed” activities. When you’re stressed out, all you can think about is sex, right? (I had to go there). Finally, the stress response prompts fat storage through an increase in cortisol production which dumps glycogen, then glucose into the blood stream, causing a subsequent release in insulin, and when insulin is released you cannot burn body fat—it prompts fat storage.

Which brings me to the stockpiling effect. Most of us appear to be living in big bodies, yet we’re not at all operating with big minds. We’re not big thinkers– curious, inquisitive, open, captivated by ourselves and others. No, instead we’re mindless automatons just doing what everyone else is or what everyone else says we should, and eating what others say is best for our bodies with no clue as to the effects. So we’re stockpiling fat and we’re stockpiling meaningless information, and we’re doing it in a less than thoughtful or aware way. Fritz Perls, an 1800’s, astute psychotherapist and father of Gestalt Therapy, said, “awareness cures.” I couldn’t agree more. Particularly when you consider what’s involved with assimilation of the food we eat.

Wrap your brains around this: the cephalic phase digestive response (CPDR) relates to the “experience” of eating– the textures, the aromas, the colors, and the satisfaction surrounding a meal. It is,  in essence, a digestive mechanism that originates from the tops of our bodies– cephalic means “of the head.” Recall the last time you were google-eyed over the brownies you saw on your friend’s Pinterest board  or when you drove by Jimmy John’s (their marketing is brilliant) and caught a whiff of their “free smells.” Catching that fresh baked bread aroma wafting through the air and you may have noticed an instant salivary response. That’s the CPDR in action! Just by noticing a food, smelling a food, and then if you actually decide to eat, and are tasting and chewing the food, your body releases increasing amounts of saliva, gastric and digestive juices, pancreatic enzymes, hormones involved in appetite, and so forth. So this is great, right? Our bodies are pretty darn efficient and know what they need to function well. Except, what if we’re not following Fritz’s advice, and we’re operating like we’re living in the Zombie apocalypse?  Oblivious, stressed out, checked out, and maxed out? And what if we’re freaked out about not losing weight quickly enough or the “right” way? And what if we’re obsessed with the Food Network and spend all of our time stockpiling recipes and drooling over pictures in magazines of meals that we “can’t eat” or “won’t fit our macros” or maybe even making them but stockpiling them for later “when we’re not dieting anymore.”

I’ll bring your full circle. Are you paying attention?

You’ve created the optimal metabolic position for fat storage outside of any caloric considerations.

Nourishment travels far beyond food. Our brains and our minds must experience pleasure through the food, by way of awareness and presence to function in a manner that says, “I’m full.” You know what it feels like when you’ve had a heart to heart with your best friend? You feel full. You feel nourished. There is no gnawing hunger ‘for more’.

We can experience the same and cure our deprivation crisis with awareness.

Face the Space…and Speak Your Truth

6 Aug

Victor Frankl said, “Between the stimulus and the response this is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

On my recent vacation I noticed the spaciousness that I felt- a sense of boundless energy unencumbered by the familiar minutiae of my days and the never-ending task list. I felt free.  Free to explore, free to be curious, and free to just be.

now clockWhat I encounter so often with those I work with however, is not this sense of space, with time and opportunity opening up to them. It’s a confining, imprisoned clinging to a pseudo-safe space. The space is small and not so tidy. It’s filled with fear and distrust of themselves. And it leads to a gravitation toward certainty, extremes, and control. The client who binged, for example, and then went immediately to setting up a new, rigid structure with which to follow for the next week.

The space I felt operated on a continuum…like the circular motion of the clock hands. No end and no beginning. Just perpetual motion. The space I see so many others contort themselves into is a narrow, limiting, suffocating space.

We keep looking for perfection...This type of space is what the pursuit of perfection feels like. And perfection grants us no choice but to strive to be someone better, someone smarter, someone prettier, someone with more willpower…you name it. Perfection says to us, “Once you accomplish __________(fill in the blank), THEN you can__________________.”

As a woman I think we’re faced with a different space than men. We have varied challenges to contend with. Sure, I’m speaking in generalities, but think about it. Our space has historically been the home. Our space has historically been with the children. Our space has culturally been to accommodate the needs of others and fill the care-taking space. Our space is genetically and biologically more emotional, yet so often we’re chastised for showing our feelings and “being emotional.” Hence, our space is often rife with a twisted, confused, and desperate longing. Our space is gradually opening up to allow us to speak our truths, however, and some of us take that space more readily than others, but it’s a conflicted space.

Trust YourselfThe space demands that we learn how to trust ourselves. And in trusting we learn how to let go of the expectations that we’ve let cling to us–the unrealistic expectations that we’ve created, the expectations of others, and the assumptions we make about what and how we need to be. We’re not victims. Far from it. And we’re not criminals for wanting to have a voice and our own truths apart of what we believe we SHOULD be.  But we can erroneously begin to take on that role and end up building our own prisons- a space with solid, iron bars and minimal light to allow us to grow into who we really are.

I described this compelling imprisonment to a client of mine just this morning: so often we’re navigating our days in automatic pilot mode. We’re putting out fires, we’re crossing off the items on our lists, we’re accommodating the needs of others, and we’re barely aware of what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling, and what space we’re in. Until the day is over or we MAKE a space, intentionally and deliberately, to check in with our truth in the moment, and we finally breathe and realize just how much of a magnet we have been all day. We look down at ourselves and we’ve got stuff just hanging on us. And we can pick it off, piece by piece, and decide what can stay and what needs to be let go of. But without the space, we become everyone else’s truths, just dragging our own behind us…or barely aware of what they are at all.

Your Truth Sounds Exactly Like FreedomAnother client today spoke directly of perfection being a problem for her. If she were to step into a freeing space, we could examine together how her perfection is less a problem but more a signal of a deep desire to be and do something, to experience a sense of mastery, of purpose, but taken to an unrealistic extreme.  Underneath the behaviors and black and white thinking is intelligence and wisdom and talent. It was just taken too far. Stilted from ever getting past a certain point in various areas of her life she wondered why she couldn’t follow through. Perfectionism. With the goal of being perfect, a setback would annihilate her self-confidence and be the proof that she just wasn’t good enough. If she were to face the space and step into it intentionally and vigilantly every time she felt that controlling pressure to “succeed”, or every time she heard that voice that says, “See, you can’t do it” or “How come you can’t get it right…” she could then ask, “What is it that I can let go of now?”

If you were to face your space, step into it, honor and embody it, what truth would you speak? How would you respond differently? How would your life blossom?

Afraid to get excited?

3 Aug

“Everything has been going so well, I’m afraid to get excited,” my client stated emphatically. “What if it doesn’t last?”

“Guess what…” I said, “It won’t!”

I know what you’re thinking. Dang, Kori; way to burst her bubble! You always talk about how powerful our thoughts are and how important being positive is!

Well, yes, as a matter of fact I do. And I’m also a realist! Positive thinking is beneficial, if we’re still operating in reality– objective reality.

“It won’t last,” I confirmed. “And that’s the entire reason I need you to relish in the excitement you’re feeling right now. I hear it in your voice, I see it in your face. Your entire body relaxed when you were describing for me what you’ve noticed lately, how well you’ve been eating, the different ways in which you’re taking care of yourself, and how motivated you’ve been during your training sessions!”

Life- ScrabbleLife.

I can go from feeling blissfully grateful to depressingly disappointed in the span of 60 seconds!

Emotion.

Memories are created by emotion. Events that  stand out for us have feelings, driven by hormones, attached to them. You could be sitting in the middle of a movie theater and recall something you were involved in years ago because of a similarly felt emotion evoked from the movie you’re watching currently.

My client has disappointment, discouragement, frustration, hurt, and anger entangled around her previous weight loss attempts. Happiness– if that’s felt for her, it’s like traveling to a foreign land where she stands among throngs of people unable to speak the language. What? Huh? Where am I? What is this? Yet she knows what it feels like because she has experienced it in other areas of her life.

Unable to make sense of it in this context, however, with it being such a rare occurrence, not only was she uncomfortable about acknowledging it but she began attributing it to some magical phenomenon.

She said, “Everything that’s happening has to be pure coincidence….or magic…or luck.”

Self-determinationTo which I replied, “You’re right. It couldn’t be that you’re taking proactive steps toward planning ahead, thinking through your actions, defining for yourself how you’d like to feel at the end of the day, playing your behaviors forward, and moving away from the belief that you need to be perfect in order to be successful…..no. It can’t be that stuff.” I winked. “You’re developing a sense of competence through engaging in meaningful behaviors,” I said. “Roll around in that!”

When was the shoe going to drop? Who knew. But what I did know was that eventually it would, whether big or small, but it was the sense of mastery and competence she was developing that I needed her to feel and take advantage of while it was there, that she could draw on when the shoe did drop. She needed to sink into the gratefulness for her successes and the excitement she was feeling. With that would come more happiness and optimism and importantly, a new narrative that she could write to explain where she was headed.

The self-handicapping, a term coined by Knee and Zuckerman (1998) needed to erode away into an objective level of responsibility-taking when the negative would pop up and setbacks would occur. In other words, I wanted her to understand that she didn’t need to defensively prepare herself for possible failure by not attributing her success to personal efforts.  If we could acknowledge that there would be failures along the way, and expect them, she wouldn’t need to make excuses “just in case.”I write...

Her new narrative, her story, that she would write about herself, or explain to others, when they would eventually ask, “How’d you do it? You lost so much weight!” would be an amalgamation of the events in her life that she would craft and connect in ways that would define her identity as a persistent, determined, competent woman who set her sights on health, and put one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again; rather than a victim of circumstance, untoward events, and the cosmos colluding in creating a fate that has her resigned to believing “I guess I was just meant to be fat.”

Dan Abrams, a Northwestern University psychologist, explains how stories give our lives coherence and meaning. Simply, they put the events we’ve experienced into perspective and help us create patterns. I wanted my client to begin rewriting the story she had been living for so long– that she was broken, unsuccessful, and a failure– and put herself in the role of a self-determined, cunning, clever, intelligent protagonist that could navigate even the toughest stuff and come out the other side. I wanted her to write a new story that had her as the hero!

Often the stories we’ve written are unconscious– think of all the times you’ve wondered why you act a certain way and have such trouble doing something different. We begin writing our stories at a very young age, and oftentimes we’re the main character in a story that is no longer true or valid for our present selves. Even if an event happened when we were a child, the meaning we spun around it then is often irrelevant for us as adults and keeps us stuck and frustrated. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, we keep reliving the same events again and again and again.

Great stories happen to those who can tell them...So think positive. But think realistically positive.

Proofread your stories and proofread them well.

Demand excellence from yourself, but not perfection.

Don’t wait for the shoe to drop– expect that it will. Then go put it on and tie the laces tightly.

And finally, get excited. Go experience and take risks so you can write new stories in which you’re thrilled to be the main character!

Chasing Color…

27 Jul

If you find a path with no obstacles....Our lives are ours to polish; to brighten in the ways that will illuminate our souls; to dive into head first with consciousness and appreciation; to paint with a creative palette of colors; and to write with twists, turns, and new experiences.

Are you chasing color in your life? Desperately clinging to something or someone rather than stepping into the color that is right here around you?

If you’re suffering, do you see the shades- the depth- that is this ‘suffering’? Is the ‘suffering’ a masterpiece of your own creation? If you believe you should not be suffering, you believe that you are not capable of growing and emerging from your safe and sheltered cocoon.

Embrace your suffering. Stop chasing and start acting. Move with passion. Remove the complaints, the whining, and self-fulfilling barriers. Step away from the wishing and explore the possibilities that are right there in front of you. Check your ego at the door. No, you don’t “deserve” anything. No, you shouldn’t “have it all.” Go make it happen. Turn on the light.

“Suffering has a noble purpose: the evolution of consciousness and the burning up of ego.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

You’re a human if you’re unveiling some crap. You don’t have to like it.

25 Jul

A significant misconception exists among many newbie mindfulness adopters.

It may sound mystical and I think it frequently turns people off because of its perceived leanings toward Eastern religion, but mindfulness isn’t about becoming religious. Perhaps for some, that’s important, but what I find is it’s much more easily accepted when it’s looked at for its tools toward becoming more in tune with one’s self and acquiring skill in concentrated awareness.

wpid-20130718_115011.jpgMindfulness meditation, while it has been around for thousands of years, has been garnering tremendous interest among fitness, health, and medical communities of late. Described by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher and founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at UMass, as a compassionate, non-judgmental focus on present-moment experience, mindfulness meditation is among the top six most recommended therapies of complementary and alternative medicine. And it’s evidence-based! According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in 2006 slightly over 9% of Americans engaged in meditation. That same year almost a million children meditated, and school districts across the country are now teaching mindfulness to children in the classrooms.

If you believe meditation in its various forms, and mindfulness in general, is just a rather fruity way of achieving some sort of transcendental spacing out, think again. It is being used  by millions to achieve optimal wellness; to cope with anxiety and stress; to manage emotional pain; to decrease the debilitating effects of depression, insomnia, and chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart disease; and to manage the psychological effects and treatment of disordered eating and substance abuse, just to name a few. The children who practice it are more emotionally aware, concentrate better in class, and exhibit greater resilience in the face of setbacks. Spacing out has no place in mindfulness—it is all about tuning in!

ReflectIn a lecture I gave recently, while discussing the benefits of “leaning in” to our discomfort– taking a curious approach to it to peel back its layers and discover its underbelly– I was met with a concern from an audience member. She said, “Kori, how is that not wallowing in the pain?” A valid question. The story she had written as a young girl through experiences by her caregivers held the message of “don’t show your emotion, it’s inappropriate to feel, and if you express pain, you’re weak.” Great. So pain = wallowing? Except, we all experience pain- it’s part of the human condition. Can you imagine the difficulty this woman was having as she attempted to navigate difficult circumstances in her life? Mindfulness doesn’t mean wallowing. It means taking notice of what’s there, observing it, acknowledging it. There’s a responsibility-taking in this. An acceptance. And when you accept it you may not like it! Whatever you discover could be like stepping in crap- ew, yuck, gross! But the important piece of this is in the non-judgment of the result. So you don’t like it. Are you bad because you don’t like it? “SHOULD” you be experiencing it differently? I could give you a million examples of self-judgments and recriminations that I’ve heard throughout my work with clients, and I’m no stranger to them in my personal life. “I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” Except you do.

“Because of the human tendency to perpetuate old emotion, almost everyone carries in his or her energy field an accumulation of old emotional pain… ~ Eckhart Tolle from A New Earth

Another client email exemplified this well. She said, “As I was digging to the bottom of the issue, I was not proud of what I found…” I got stuck on this statement of hers. It was honest, real, and captivating to me. Her disappointment, anger, and fear were all over the place. As I read her description of the situation though, these were the words I got hung up on.  She wasn’t keen on the issues she found at the root of her emotion…

Herein lies that which is at the heart of mindfulness. Being aware, non-judgmentally. Discovery isn’t “supposed” to be enjoyable all the time. Enlightenment doesn’t mean that we like what we find or that we illuminate beauty. Oftentimes we uncover some pretty ugly crap. But are we not blessed to have done so? The crap itself may stink, but it’s what we choose to do with the crap that matters. Attentive awareness brings to the forefront what we may never have been present enough to see before. It’s not just about inner peace all the time. It’s about understanding so we’re not being guided blindly by falsehoods and irrationality.

You’re a human if you’re unveiling some crap. You don’t have to like it.

Don’t Kill the Messenger!

31 May

At the conclusion of my workshop earlier this week one of the participants expressed concern about the utility of a particular tool I’d recommended. I gave everyone 10 different tools to begin putting into practice that would set them on a course toward navigating the barriers we so often trip over and give permission (not often consciously) to minimize our goal persistence.

The tip, BOYCOTT THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, suggests that we would do well to become more open to experiencing what life hands us, to pay attention, to slow down, and to savor.

Open to ExperienceBoycotting the zombie apocalypse means we aren’t operating in the misconstrued land of “ignorance is bliss.” No. In fact, deciding to disengage from the automatic pilot mode that so many of us move through our days with, gives us hope for a new level of authenticity and importantly, choosing goals that actually resonate with who we are.

So my workshop attendee’s concern went something like this: “Kori, I’m getting stuck in the part where you talk about letting yourself experience emotion. Like pain. I’m worried that if I let myself feel it, I’ll just wallow in it.”

She related her perceived tendency to stay steeped in emotion, as so many of us do. But not because we’re consciously making a decision to invite it in and acknowledge it… when we get overwhelmed by pain, it is more a function of believing the thoughts that we’ve constructed about the meaning of our pain. And often the thoughts are distorted and untrue.

It is our nature to feel coherent and integrated. You know when you feel uncomfortable– like something is awry. Our bodies signal us through symptoms like an increased heart rate, lack of concentration or focus, or fidgeting. Our thoughts can clue us in to how we might be experiencing a situation as well, for example, “you’ll never finish this project”, or “he’s very angry with you right now.” These thoughts give rise to feelings that manifest in our physical bodies and can cause a host of behaviors. When we’re in zombie land, we move impulsively. We react. If we can slow down when we recognize these cues, we can respond in a more coherent, integrated manner.

It’s not our nature to tend toward wallowing and staying in the center of discomfort- we want to feel like we’re well oiled and calibrated. The body strives toward equilibrium as well. However, if, for instance, my workshop participant grew up in an environment where by staying emotionally engaged and emotionally intense she received attention and nurturing, perhaps her concern is valid. There were positive consequences for her to remain in the emotionally volatile place, despite its being uncomfortable and disintegrating.  Now, in her adult life, such behavior is likely not so effective. She gets to learn a new way of being with her emotion, and still “using it”, but in a different manner.

The pain is the messenger. When we try to push it away versus inviting it in and acknowledging it, we in essence, tell ourselves that we’re unimportant and that our bodies are misguided and we can’t trust them. I read this equation that is helpful to remember: Pain x Resistance = Suffering

Listen and LearnIf we resist the pain, we kill the messenger…and the message. And the messenger can be delivering some astoundingly revelatory and insightful information to us….if we’re willing to listen.

We don’t have to wish for pain or not-so-comfortable experiences. What I am implying is that through the adoption of a more open nature and a boycotting of the zombie apocalypse, you will experience a wealth of benefits including: greater emotional regulation and resilience in the face of difficult circumstances; higher thresholds for experiencing threats or stress; viewing all experiences as opportunities for growth and learning; fewer inclinations toward awareness distracting activities like television, video games, or compulsive behaviors such as binge eating; and the adoption of goals that are not only personally meaningful and relevant, but the ability to pursue them with persistence.

So don’t kill the messenger. The messenger is your friend. And as Carl Rogers once said, “All the facts are friendly” (1961).

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