Living the Dream

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How to improve your communication skills: be an effective listener March 8, 2009

Listening seems easy enough, but actually it’s an art that requires much time and practice to master. We’ve all encountered situations in which we’ve misinterpreted or made assumptions about what somebody said, only to lead to massive misunderstanding and possibly arguments! This is why it’s critical to be an active listener. When you are in the listener role, your job is to support the person who is speaking. You are not going to get very far if you just sit there and let their words go in one ear and out the other. If you care about the speaker, let them know through active listening.

Ways to respond while your partner is speaking:

  1. Show that you understand your partner’s statements and accept his/her right to have those thoughts and feelings, even if you disagree with their content. Let him/her speak for some time before interjecting with your own speech. When you do pipe up, reflect and summarize your partner’s most important feelings, desires, conflicts, and thoughts. Especially focus on feelings, as this is often what can deepen the conversation and lead to a deeper level of understanding. This means you’ll be doing some guesswork regarding what your partner is really trying to say- it’s trial and error. Sometimes you’ll get it wrong, sometimes you’ll be right on target. With practice, you’re going to improve.
  2. Demonstrate this acceptance through your tone of voice, facial expressions, and posture.
  3. Try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and look at the situation from his/her perspective, in order to determine how s/he feels and thinks about the issue. If there’s a problem at stake, your partner already has the solution. Thing is, s/he may not be aware of it due to confusion or emotional overload. That’s where your critical role as the listener comes in. The listener’s job is to do some detective work and help the speaker come to peace with the topic at hand. As mentioned in #1, you must try to peel back the layers of what your partner has said and figure out what is going on underneath. Focus on feelings, try to guess what is at stake for your partner. Use your partner’s words– there’s no better way to make a person feel validated than by using their language.

While you are the listener, DO NOT:

  1. Express your own opinion or perspective.
  2. Think about how your partner’s words affect you– your job is to be helping them when you are in the listener role. You will get your turn as the speaker.
  3. Offer solutions or attempt to solve a problem without being asked.
  4. Make judgments or evaluate what your partner said.


With these skills, we hope you will become a better, more active listener!


How to prepare for a marathon October 21, 2007


Is running a marathon among your life goals? Well stop ruminating about it and just do it! Trust us- you’ll be happy with your decision. The Dream Team is in the process of training for our first marathon, so we’re totally novices. Still, it’s been immensely rewarding thus far. Very fulfilling and empowering! There are SO MANY resources already dedicated to marathon training. We have our own spin on life, so many of the more traditional resources- websites like,7118,,00.html,, and Mammy’s favorite forum-  etc.- don’t fit perfectly for us, or those like us (you!). Don’t get us wrong now- these sites are AMAZING tools that we have been referencing throughout our training, and you should check them out too. Our recommendations here are by no means meant to substitute for a comprehensive training guide….we just wanted to share some key points we’ve learned so far in our training. Happy running!

1. Social Support

THIS IS CRITICAL!! Get somebody to sign up for the race with you. Even if they don’t live in your town, even if you never run with them before the big day. We cannot emphasize this point enough. You’ll want to talk about how your runs are going, the physical changes you’re noticing, the pain, the challenges, and the victories you experience throughout your training program. You’ll find that non-runners in your life will not understand most of this. However, somebody who trains for other types of athletic events will be familiar with a lot of training issues, so if you can’t recruit a friend, coworker, family member, etc. to run- talk to another endurance athlete. It is so valuable to have somebody with whom you can share your thoughts, worries, excitement, and with whom you can feel a culture of mutual support and encouragement.

2. Find a group

If you can’t recruit anybody you know to run with you, consider joining an organized running group. It’s a good way to get social support, make new friends, and avoid the monotony that can happen when you run alone – you will see that it makes a WORLD of difference to run with others! As well, many people will probably have run before, so groups can be a great forum to get questions answered and get recommendations from seasoned veterans who know what works!

3. Get excited

Do a calendar countdown, make a paper chain (ya know, like you did as a kid the month before Christmas), make a t-shirt, a mini-poster to hang in your home or office, a pump-up music mix. Continue to do these types of things up until the race to keep your spirit up!

4. Plan ahead

Decide what you’re going to do the nights before and after the race. This can be loads of fun to plan if you have others running the race with you. You might plan a relaxing carbfest the night prior to the big run, and perhaps a massage or movie marathon for after the event. It’s something to look forward to that you’ll certainly have earned with all your hard work and dedication!

5. Treat yourself

To new shoes, running clothes, accessories. Anything that will get you excited to hit the pavement!

6. Mix it up

Running the same route every time will eventually get really boring and may screw with your head. Find new routes, and mix it up throughout the week so you’re continually stimulated and enjoying new scenery. We suggest that you map your runs using either or better yet,, which has route maps of varying mileage in your town that other people have already mapped out (some even have descriptions and ratings). You can also record your training and map out your own runs here. Very useful! If you’re out of town for a weekend, planning a run through an area of interest can be a great way to check out a new spot!

7. Do you Gu?

Once you get up to running an hour or more, you might find that your energy’s getting sapped. To combat this, get ClifShots, Gu, PowerBar gel, or something of the like (Mammy recommends ClifShots). These are little packets filled with carbs and electrolytes meant to increase your endurance, and boy do they live up to their claims. Slurp one down when you’re beginning to feel like you’re loosing it- it’ll give your muscles the energy they need to carry you to the finish line!

8. Be flexible

Scheduling-wise, that is. Sometimes, things are going to come up and you will miss a run. A family emergency, a move, and priorities with work, school, and friends. Don’t freak out or panic. Sit down with your training schedule and figure out how you can mix things up in the days following the lapse to get yourself back on course. The only thing you have to make absolute certain of is that you get your long run in for the week. If you have to do it a few days later than originally scheduled, it’s fine- do it, and cut out a couple short runs for that week. Don’t fret! As Alanis Morisette once said, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you. Just know that it’s gonna happen, but you aren’t gonna allow it to throw you off course completely.

9. Take care of yourself

The simple truth is that you can only do your best in an endurance event if you put your physical self first. You need to get enough sleep, eat right, and cut down on drinking and partying. If you want to perform, you have to make sacrifices. This is not to say you should cut all the fun out of your life- but be more picky. Remember, the people who want you to stay out partying aren’t going to be waking up at 8am on Sunday to run 14 miles.

10. Pay attention to pain

If you’re hurt beyond what Advil and a day or two of rest can repair, figure out what’s wrong. Talk to seasoned runners and/or see your doctor. Don’t push yourself until you cause irreparable damage. Remember, your goal is to finish the race, and you gotta take care of yourself to do so!


How to improve your communication skills: Problem solving October 6, 2007

So you’re ticked off at your intimate partner for something….maybe it’s a familiar problem rearing its ugly head once again, or perhaps it’s a new issue that just surfaced. Regardless of what it is or how often it happens, trying to find a solution can be difficult and stressful, and sometimes can even lead to additional problems. Sometimes just the thought of broaching the issue is tough. The Dream Team is here to help. Below are some guidelines for solving problems with your romantic partner. These may extend to other types of relationships as well.

1. Define and specify

Phrase the issue in terms of behaviors that are currently occurring or not occurring, or in terms of what needs to be decided.

Break down large, complex problems into several smaller & more manageable problems. Deal with each of these one at a time.

Make certain that both you and your parter agree on the statement of the problem, and are willing to discuss it.

2. Importance

Explain why the issue is important to you, and what you perceive the issues involved to be.

Explain what your needs are and that you would like to see them taken into account in the solution. DO NOT offer speicific solutions at this time.

3. Brainstorm possible solutions

Time to get creative! Brainstorm every possible solution, no matter how extreme, that you can think of. *Write them down on a piece of paper.* Each solution should be concrete and specificy the behaviors involved.

4. Decide on a solution

You and your partner should independently rate each solution from 1-3 in terms of how much you favor it (1=favor very much, 2=neutral/willing to try but skeptical, 3=dislike). Cross off solutions that both of you gave a 3, since these won’t work for either of you. If there are solutions that both of you rated a “1”, focus on these. Otherwise focus on solutions that one of you rated a “1” and the other rated a “2”. The best solutions will take both partners’ needs and preferences into account, and will be focused on the present and the futue. Do not focus on solutions that meet only your needs, even if your partner is willing to accept them. This could lead to resentment and/or withdrawal by your partner down the line. Do not dwell on the past – the solution should move your relationship forward. Do not accept solutions that you do not intend to follow through with, or one that will make you angry or resentful.

Once you have selected a solution, write it in clear, specific behavioral terms (if this has not already been done). Both you and your partner should verbally restate the solution in your own words to ensure that you each understand it in the same way.

5. Trial

Select a time frame during which to implement the solution on a trial basis. Both you and your partner should mark you calendars for the date when this trial period ends. Allow for several attempts at the new solution. Review the solution at the end of the trial period. If needed, revise the solution, taking into account what you learned during the trial.

All content from:

Baucom, D. H., Epstein, N., & LaTaillade, J. J. (2002). Cognitive-Behavioral Couple Therapy. In Gurman & Jacobson (eds.). Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy. The Guilford Press: New York.


How to improve your communication skills: Speaking October 5, 2007


Interested in improving your communication skills? Most people can stand to improve in this department. The great thing about improving these skills is that they’re applicable to any relationship- friends, romantic partners, parents, kids, coworkers. Have you ever gotten caught up in the heat of the moment, and lashed out at your friend, partner, parent, or child? Maybe things even escalated into a full-blown fight. Afterwards, everyone probably felt bad… You can avoid this trap by following the guidelines for effective communication below.

The example situation that will be referenced throughout the post: You and a close friend had made plans to have dinner together last Friday. She called you an hour before you had planned to meet and cancelled because she wanted to go to a concert with a new guy she’s seeing.

  1. State your views subjectively – as your own feelings and thoughts, not as absolute truths. Use “I” statements to avoid your listener feeling as if they’re being verbally attacked (“I’m angry with you because we didn’t get to hang out last Friday like we had planned to do” vs. “It pisses me off that you flaked on me”).
  2. Speak for yourself. State what you think and feel, NOT what you think your listener thinks and feels (“I’m feeling hurt that we didn’t get to spend time together, and angry that you called me an hour before we were supposed to meet” instead of “Clearly, I’m not a priority to you”).
  3. Express your emotions and feelings, not just your ideas (“I’m feeling hurt that we didn’t get to hang out” instead of “We didn’t get to hang out”).
  4. When talking about your listener, state your feelings about her/him, not just about a certain event or situation (“I’m angry with you” instead of “I’m angry that we didn’t get to hang out”).
  5. When expressing negative emotions or concerns, also include positive feelings you have about the person or situation. (“I was really excited to see you because you’re one of my closest friends, and I got very disappointed when you called to cancel” instead of “I’m feeling angry, hurt, and disappointed”)
  6. Make your statements as specific as possible. Identify a single situation or topic that’s bothering you and prompting you to share (Your friend flaked on you last Friday when you had dinner plans , instead of Your friend flakes on you all the time). Avoid making global attributions about your listener (“You called me an hour before we were supposed to meet last Friday” instead of “You always flake on me”). Also be specific in terms of your emotions and thoughts. (“I’m feeling angry and hurt” instead of “I’m feeling bad”).
  7. Speak in “paragraphs”. Express a main idea with some elaboration and allow your listener to respond. Speaking for a long time without a break makes it difficult for your listener to listen.
  8. Use appropriate tact and timing, so that your listener can hear what you’re saying without becoming defensive. Monitor the tone of your voice so that you can have a constructive problem-solving conversation instead of one in which you and your listener tear each other down. Select a time to bring up the topic in advance, when both you and your listener have a block of time and will be able to attend fully to the conversation. Right before work, bed, or other plans is not a good time.

All content from:

Baucom, D. H., Epstein, N., LaTaillade, J. J. (2002). Cognitive-Behavioral Couple Therapy. In Gurman & Jacobson (eds.). Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy. The Guilford Press: New York.


How to be assertive without being a bitch

Have you ever been taken for a “ride” by a cab driver, been treated poorly by sales reps, had to wait for hours cuz your flight got delayed, or had your order botched at a restaurant? These are all things that we put up with that we don’t have to. Feeling like you just got screwed over sucks. Now don’t get us wrong- we’re not suggesting that you make a fuss over every little thing that’s not to your liking. Human beings make mistakes, and many times it’s a deal-able situation. For instance, if on your sandwich you get provolone cheese instead of the Swiss that you ordered, it might not be fuss-worthy. That said, if you’ve got a hankering for Swiss, and you indeed ordered it—get it! In addition, there is a class of behaviors, or lack thereof, that is just plain inexcusable. For instance, you get in a cab and the meter says $42, 309 (which is what happened to The Dream Team last weekend). WTF is that about? Unaccepts for sure! In this instance, The Dream Team asked the cab driver what was up with the meter and laughed with him about how it was clearly broken. He said he’d charge a flat rate to our destination, which was a few dollars more than what the frequently Mammy-travelled route would usually cost. The solution in this case was for us to realize that his requested fare included his tip– done. There is a way to go about these situations without being a jerk. You need to behave with a sense of calm, confidence, assertiveness, and grace. It doesn’t have to been an awkward confrontational situation, the fear of which prevents most of us from asking for what we want. The Dream Team proposes the following recommendations.

Taxi drivers who overcharge

Only challenge the fare when you’re certain that he overcharged you on a route you travel frequently. Keep in mind that gas prices increase, so if you haven’t ridden in a cab for a while, this could be the reason for an elevated fare. Getting a lower fare can be difficult because often cab drivers doggedly defend their fares when they’re clearly just trying to get a few extra bucks. When you arrive at your destination, what you need to do is stay calm, and state with confidence that you travel the route frequently and it costs $x. Tell him you’ll give him that amount. If he tries to argue with you, repeat yourself until he backs down. Mammies have successfully used this strategy countless times. Which brings up a whole other issue– Why all the shady cab drivers?!

Dealing with online order problems

Consider that if your order involved postal service delivery, the mail may be to blame, and it might be inappropriate to use the approach below. Follow these guidelines only after you’ve determined that the order company is clearly at fault.Email customer service with your complaint, and make sure you include all the relevant details (order # and such). If you don’t hear back from them within a few business days, simply forward your original email to them. If a week passes and you still haven’t gotten a response, resort to the use of threat. Email customer service again, notifying them that this is your third attempt to get in contact. Copy and paste your complaint, and let them know that you’ll be contacting the Better Business Bureau if you don’t hear back from them within a week. Usually this will result in a swift move to appease you. The key here is to use email as a way to document your attempts to contact them.

Airline delays and baggage problems

You can get a free ticket, or frequent flier miles, for certain types of delays. Delays due to weather conditions won’t get you anything, since (clearly) these are out of the airline’s control. However, mechanical failure falls under the responsibility of the airline, and you can get something out of this. For instance, due to mechanical difficulties, Mammy’s recent flight was delayed by 3 hours. She couldn’t get on any stand-by flights to the original destination, but she did manage to get on a standby flight to an airport near the original destination. Of course there was the luggage concern- Mammy’s luggage ended up at the original destination. The ticket agent at the departing gate had told her she wouldn’t be able to have the luggage sent to her house. Mammy refused to accept this and took matters into her own hands. Mammy got her bags delivered to her home that evening, free of charge. She also received frequent flier miles for the delay. Here’s how you can do it:

Getting bags delivered. At the arrival airport, calmly explain to the baggage claim agent the situation. There’s no harm in telling him or her (calmly) that you are frustrated with the situation. Just remember to be friendly, calm, and treat the agent with kindness. Use your manners – “please” and “thank you” will get you a long way.

Getting miles. Write and mail a hard copy of a letter to the CEO of the airline (contact information may be found on websites), explaining your frustration with delay situation and how it ruined your plans for the day. Keep in mind that it can take up to 6 weeks to receive a response.

Sending food back at a restaurant

Mammy is constantly asking for exclusions and substitutions in her restaurant orders, so often her orders arrive at the table messed up. Mammy’s protocol for handling this situation:

1. If it doesn’t come naturally, express the disappointment on your face.

2. Remain calm, and explain how your order differs from what you really ordered.

3. Say you’re sorry for sending it back, and acknowledge that it wasn’t the server’s fault.

4. Smile and say thank you.

5. Wait for your correct order to arrive. Possibly steal a French fry or two from your companion’s plate to hold you over.

Easy. And what’s more, many times your meal will be comped without you even having to ask. Should this occur, add to your server’s tip at least half the price of your meal. If you have to wait an excessively long time (please use your judgment here) for your meal to be delivered and perhaps go hypoglycemic, ask for the manager and calmly explain the situation. Tell him you don’t think you should have to pay for your meal. 9 times out of 10, you won’t have to.


Top 10 Undergrad Colleges, Med Schools, Law Schools, and Selected Grad Programs October 4, 2007


Higher education will definitely get you ahead in today’s world. In this post, we have compiled listings of top undergrad universities and selected grad programs. Rankings are based on US News & World Report 2008 data. 

Top 10 Undergraduate Universities
  1. Princeton
  2. Harvard
  3. Yale
  4. Stanford
  5. University of Pennsylvania
  6. California Institute of Technology
  7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  8. Duke
  9. Columbia
  10. University of Chicago
Top Law Schools
  1. Yale
  2. Harvard
  3. Stanford
  4. New York University
  5. Columbia
  6. University of Chicago
  7. University of Pennsylvania
  8. University of California, Berkeley
  9. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  10. Duke
Top Business Schools (MBA)
  1. Harvard
  2. Stanford
  3. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)
  5. Northwestern University (Kellogg)
Top Med Schools
  1. Harvard
  2. Johns Hopkins University
  3. University of Pennsylvania
  4. Washington University in St. Louis
  5. University of California, San Francisco
  6. University of Washington
  7. Stanford
  8. Duke
  9. Yale
  10. Baylor College of Medicine
Top Veterinary Medicine Schools (DVM)
  1. Cornell
  2. Colorado State University
  3. University of California, Davis
Top Education Programs
  1. Teachers College, Columbia
  2. Stanford
  3. Harvard
  4. Vanderbilt (Peabody)
  5. University of California, Los Angeles
  6. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  7. Northwestern University
  8. University of California, Berkeley
  9. University of Washington
  10. University of Wisconsin, Madison
Top Clinical Psychology PhD Programs
  1. University of California, Los Angeles
  2. University of California, Berkeley
  3. University of Wisconsin, Madison
Top Nursing Programs (Master’s)
  1. University of Washington
  2. University of California, San Francisco
  3. University of Pennsylvania
Top Pharmacy Programs (PharmD)
  1. University of California, San Francisco
  2. University of Texas, Austin
  3. North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Top Public Health Programs (Master’s)
  1. Johns Hopkins University
  2. Harvard
  3. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Top Social Work Programs (Master’s)
  1. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  2. Washington University in St. Louis
  3. Columbia
Top Engineering PhD Programs
  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  2. Stanford
  3. University of California, Berkeley
  4. Georgia Institute of Technology
  5. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaigne
Top Economics PhD Programs
  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  2. University of Chicago
  3. Harvard
  4. Princeton
  5. Stanford
Top Sociology PhD Programs
  1. Wisconsin, Madison
  2. University of California, Berkeley
  3. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Top Political Science PhD Programs
  1. Harvard
  2. Stanford
  3. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Top Computer Science PhD Programs
  1. Carnegie Mellon University
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  3. Stanford
  4. University of California, Berkeley

To view rankings for other programs, visit US News & World Report at


How to get into grad school, Part II: Choosing your programs September 30, 2007

Before you get started with applications, how do you choose a program? You don’t want to apply to too many because the application process is costly. And however fabulous you are, it’s not a good idea to apply to just a couple of top schools without giving consideration to other decent choices, and even some backups.

Among the most important elements to attend to in selecting a program are the following: 


Read up on the program’s general philosophy. Look for important nuances, such as the focus- for instance, is there a differential emphasis on research vs. practice? Also, if you have specific interests within your field, certain programs have specialty tracks to accommodate these, while others don’t. Finally, find out if your field has an accrediting institution, and if the programs you’re looking into are accredited. 

Program length

Find out how long the program is designed to be. For some programs, typically doctoral programs, the time it actually takes students to complete the program often exceeds the planned timeline. In this case, get a more realistic idea of program length by taking a look at how long it has taken previous students to graduate. This should be on the department website. 


Will you be working closely with a mentor or an advisor? If so, your choice should hinge heavily on your mentor. Your interests should overlap considerably with those of a potential mentor. Find out what type of activities s/he’s involved in, and select a few publications of his/hers to read. If it’s not already built in to the admission process, try to meet her/him before accepting. To get the honest truth on what it’s like to work with this person, talk to his/her current graduate students. 


If a required internship or residency follows the academic years of the program, find out where the program has set its past graduates. Based on the type of internship you’re leaning towards, gauge whether the program will provide the appropriate and sufficient experience. 

Thinking WAY Ahead

Find out what types of jobs are held by graduates of the program. Whether you know exactly what you’d like to do, or you’re still paving your way to a specific career, consider whether are these positions in line with what you see yourself doing for the long-term future. Also this is a decent index to inform you about the program more generally, and what it gears its students towards. 


This is HUGE. Many doctoral programs fully fund their students, including tuition and health insurance, plus a monthly stipend. That’s right – you can get paid to go to school! Other programs offer some support, work-study, and/or loans. MAKE SURE you find out about this ahead of time! If you’re accepted, you might feel so lucky that you got in anywhere, that you simply brush the funding issue under the rug. Then you could be drowning in debt following graduation. All that hard work to be in debt…boo. Remember, the program picked you for a reason, especially if it subscribes to a mentor model. They want you, and they will make compromises to keep you.  


Find out what classes you’ll be required to take while you’re there. Consider how much wiggle room you’ll have for electives, and what choices you’ll have. Consider the typical semester course load and the usual coursework timeline at each program. 

Hands-on Opportunities

Find out if you’ll have (required or optional) opportunities to work with patients, clients, cases, samples during your time in the program. Find out if this will this happen on or off campus, and whether you will get to choose the site. 

Location, location, location!

This one’s a tad controversial, because you certainly shouldn’t select all of your programs because they’re in a particular location. You should be applying to programs, not to a geographic place. The other side of the coin is that you’ll be living in the place for several years- you should see yourself being happy there. Though you’ll be super busy doing a lot of hard work, you should enjoy the ride. Before you commit, visit the place and try to get a feel for it. Scope out neighborhoods and the local culture. Another issue is, will your significant other be moving with you? How does s/he feel about the place? It’s your career, but it’s also important that you both agree on a location to minimize the possibility of resentment in the future. If you’re single, do you have a friend there? This could make your transition a lot easier. Starting school, you’ll meet people in your program, but perhaps not many others. It is a good thing to have friends outside of your program to add some diversity to your social scene.